Calves & Heifer

Feeding and Management Tips



A sufficient quantity of quality colostrum within an hour of birth is essential to ensure the calf has adequate protection until its own immune system develops. Current colostrum feeding recommendations for Holsteins are: 3 - 4 litres of colostrum within an hour of birth, and at least another 2 litres within 12 hours of birth. Continue to feed colostrum for the first three days of life.

Milk Replacer Mixing & Feeding Recommendations

There are many nutritional and economical benefits to feeding a quality milk replacer. Milk replacer is a cheaper alternative than whole milk taken from within quota milk. Milk replacer also provides your calves with consistent nutrition from feeding to feeding. Using milk replacer can also help to prevent the spread of diseases that can be passed to the calf through non pasteurized cow milk.

Achieving a proper mix of milk replacer solution is imperative, and requires diligent monitoring of mixing and feeding temperatures. When very hot water is used to mix the solution it causes the fat to separate out and makes the protein portion unavailable for digestion. If milk replacer powder is mixed with cold water it does not go into solution readily, which results in over-mixing causing fat separation as well. Milk replacer powder should be added to hot water (110°F/43°C), mixed well, and then brought down to the calf's body temperature (102°F/ 38.5°C) by adding cooler water.

Conventional calf feeding programs recommend feeding milk replacer at 10% of the calf’s bodyweight (on average 2 litres/ feeding). Some producers have implemented early weaning programs at 4 – 5 weeks of age by controlling milk intake and encouraging calf starter intake. More recently, research has suggested that feeding larger quantities of milk replacer may result in improved growth and health. Discuss with your Purina Farm Consultant which of these programs can be customized to best meet your calf and heifer raising goals for your operation.


Providing calves with free choice access to water year round will encourage starter intake and subsequently increase growth rates. Offering calves warm (not hot!) water during winter is important to encourage starter intake, and it gives the calves more time to consume the water before it freezes.

Feeding Calf Starter

Regardless of which calf starter you choose from Purina’s line of industry-leading calf products, the feeding recommendations remain the same. To encourage starter intake, starter should be offered daily in increasing quantities from 3 days of age. As consumption increases, feed should be offered on a free-choice basis to meet the appetite. In order to maintain freshness, starter buckets should be checked daily, and washed regularly.


While individual hutches provide calves with one of the healthiest environments, other types of housing can work well when properly managed. Regardless of type of housing, the goal is to provide a clean, dry, draft-free environment with minimal temperature variations. It is important to reduce calf-to-calf contact in order to prevent disease transmission and promote healthy calf development.

Weaning and Transition Periods

Weaning is a stressful time for young calves, but feeding and management practices can be implemented to minimize the stress. Independent of weaning time, the following guidelines should be followed:

  • Calves can be weaned when they are consuming at least 0.75 to 1kg of starter for 3 consecutive days
  • Keep calves on the same starter product for at least one week after weaning
  • Avoid moving the calf to a different environment at the time of weaning
  • Avoid other stresses at this time such as dehorning or removal of extra teats



The goal of heifer raising programs is to have heifers at the proper size to be bred by at least 15 months of age and subsequently calve at 24 months. More aggressive programs that have heifers calving by 21 – 22 months of age can be successfully implemented.

Balanced Nutrition

As heifers are transitioned onto a higher forage diet it is important to make the transition slowly, and to analyze the forages in order to provide them with a well-balanced ration. Avoid overfeeding energy and underfeeding protein as this leads to short, fat heifers, which may decrease future milk production and make them more susceptible to dystocia. When feeding an ionophore such as Bovatec or Rumensin, protein and mineral levels need to be increased in order to direct the higher ration energy level into skeletal and muscle growth, rather than excess fat deposition. Avoid feeding only wet silages to heifers, as it limits dry matter intake, reducing total nutrient intake. Remember, heifers are most efficient at converting nutrients into lean body muscle in the first 6 months of life. Provide your heifers with the best quality ingredients at this phase to take advantage of this efficiency!