The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of early-life feeding duration on growth and economics of group-fed organic dairy calves. Heifer calves born during the spring of 2011 (n. = 67) and the spring of 2012 (n. = 57) were used to evaluate the effect of weaning age, growth, and profitability of group-fed calves fed once per day in an organic dairy production system. Calves were assigned to replicate feeding groups of 10 in super hutches by birth order, and were born at the University of Minnesota West Central Research and Outreach Center, Morris organic dairy. Breed groups were Holsteins (n. = 15) selected for high production, Holsteins (n. = 23) maintained at 1964 breed-average level, crossbreds (n. = 54) including combinations of Holstein, Montbéliarde, and Swedish Red, and crossbreds (n. = 32) including combinations of Holstein, New Zealand Friesian, Jersey, and Swedish Red. Groups of calves were weaned at 30 (EW, early weaning), 60 (MW, mid weaning), or 90 (LW, late weaning) d of age, and groups were fed 1.5% of birth weight of 13% total solids organic whole milk once daily and weaned when the group of 10 calves consumed an average of 0.91. kg of organic calf starter per calf per day for 4 consecutive days. Body measurements were recorded at birth, weekly during the preweaning period, at weaning, and monthly thereafter. Profitability was estimated as a function of the total cost for organic milk and organic calf starter for weaning groups to weaning and to the first 90. d of age. Preweaning group performance was weaning age, EW: 47.6. d, MW: 64.5. d, LW: 93.7. d; weaning weight, EW: 61.8. kg, MW: 79.2. kg, LW: 108.1. kg; and gain per day, EW: 0.51. kg/d, MW: 0.63. kg/d, LW: 0.75. kg/d. Body weight (BW) did not differ among weaning groups at 90. d of age; however, MW calves had lower 120-d BW than did LW calves. The EW calves did not differ from either MW or LW calves for 120-d BW. Total feed costs to weaning for groups were $1,092.97 for EW calves, $1,871.24 for MW calves, and $2,956.64 for LW calves. The cost per kilogram of gain was higher for the EW ($5.54) group of calves than for the MW ($4.60) or LW ($4.14) groups during the preweaning period. Total costs and cost per kilogram of gain for the first 90. d of age were lowest for EW ($1,595.59, $3.02) calves and highest for LW ($2,956.64, $4.13) calves, respectively.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
The authors express gratitude to Claire Thiebaut (ESITPA student, Mont-Saint-Aignan, France), Darin Huot, and coworkers at WCROC for their assistance in data collection and care of animals. Financial support was provided for this project by The Ceres Trust (Milwaukee, WI) .
- Group housing
- Organic dairy