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Determining optimum age of Holstein dairy calves when adding chopped alfalfa hay to meal starter diets based on measures of growth and performance

  • S. M. Hosseini (a1), G. R. Ghorbani (a1), P. Rezamand (a2) and M. Khorvash (a1)


The present study was conducted to determine the optimum age of Holstein dairy calves for an effective inclusion of alfalfa hay (AH) in starter feed on performance, apparent digestibility and feeding behavior. A total of 40 Holstein dairy calves (20 female and 20 male) were used in a completely randomized design in which calves were randomly assigned to one of four different dietary treatments including control (CON) calves fed starter feed without any forage and three treatments consisting of the same starter feed plus 15% chopped AH fed when calves were at the 2nd (AH2), 4th (AH4) or 6th (AH6) week of age. Calves were individually housed and bedded with sand that was replaced every other day. Feed and water were available ad libitum throughout the experiment. Calves were fed milk at 10% of birth BW twice daily until d 57. The study concluded when calves were 73 days old. Starter intake was recorded daily and BW was measured weekly. Data were analyzed as a complete randomized design by MIXED procedures of SAS. Results demonstrate that calves receiving AH treatments numerically consumed more starter feed (0.62 v. 0.78, 0.71 and 0.65 kg/day for CON, AH2, AH4 and AH6, respectively) and had greater average daily gain (ADG) compared with CON (0.48 v. 0.57, 0.49 and 0.49 kg/day for CON, AH2, AH4 and AH6), although the significant difference was observed only between AH2 and CON. Among AH treatments, calves in AH2 had better performance than AH6 in several cases including starter intake, ADG. No detectable differences were observed, however, in apparent dry matter, organic matter or CP digestibility among treatments. Ruminal pH and NH3 concentrations, measured on weeks 4, 6, 8 and 10, were lower for calves fed CON compared with other treatments, with ammonia concentrations decreasing over time. Calves in the AH treatments spent more time eating and ruminating compared with CON. Calves fed CON, however, spent more time on laying down compared with other treatments. Overall, results from the present study illustrated that inclusion of alfalfa in starter feed for calves at 2 weeks of age may improve feed intake, ADG and stimulate rumination in young Holstein dairy calves. Results, however, should be viewed with caution as the number of calves per treatment was small and large calf-to-calf variation may have affected the results reported.


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