Thirty-four British Friesian bull calves were used in experiments to identify diurnal patterns of respiratory quotient (RQ), as an indicator of substrate utilization and to measure energy balance when the same daily amount of milk replacer was given on either 1, 2, 4 or 6 occasions. Each calf spent two 4-day periods in an open-circuit respiration chamber followed immediately, in selected calves, by an 8-day period in a metabolism crate, period 1 starting when calves were 12 days of age and period 2 at 28 days of age. The amount of milk replacer given daily was 32 and 48 g/kg M0·75 during periods 1 and 2 respectively.
Neither rate of live-weight gain nor the energy balance of the calves was affected by frequency of feeding. However, raising the frequency of feeding from one to four times daily significantly affected the pattern of RQ. Reduced feeding frequency tended to raise the mean maximum and lower the mean minimum values of RQ; reducing the frequency of feeding significantly increased the range in RQ (F < 0·01).
The apparent dry-matter digestibility of the milk replacer was higher in 36-day-old than in 20-day-old calves (0·93 v. 0·88; s.e.d. 0·011, P < 0·01). The effect was mainly due to an increase in the digestibility of fat (0·82 v. 0·73; s.e.d. 0·019). In 20-day-old calves, there was a linear increase in fat digestibility with increased frequency of feeding (P < 0·01) rising from 0·67 in calves given milk once daily to 0·85 when milk was given in six meals.
The results suggest that calves given milk replacer once daily (at a level of intake of 32 rising to 48 g milk powder per kg M0·75) do not pass through a diurnal period of severe nutrient deprivation and that raising frequency of feeding would do little to improve efficiency of energy utilization.