Discipline: calf rearing; Keywords: once or twice a day milk feeding, labour costs, health, mortality, rumen development.

In most calf rearing systems milk is fed twice a day to dairy calves. However, at Outeniqua Research Farm calves have been reared successfully by feeding milk once a day. The advantage is that by feeding once a day labour requirements are reduced and it may positively affect growth, health and rumen development of calves, e.g. more rapid development of the digestive system. Effective calf rearing will reduce calf mortalities and rearing costs in both commercial and small holder operations. To study the possible benefits or disadvantages of feeding milk once a day, the aim of the study by the authors cited below was to determine the effect of feeding milk once vs twice a day to calves on intake, growth and rumen development.  

Forty eight heifer and 24 bull calves were randomly allocated to two treatments resulting in 24 heifer and 12 bull calves per treatment. Treatment 1: Milk fed once a day (3L in the morning) and Treatment 2: Milk fed twice a day (1.5L in the morning and 1.5L in the afternoon). Calves stayed with their mothers for three days after birth to ensure colostrum intake. From day 4 the calves were randomly allocated to the two treatments and housed in hutches on pasture. The calves were weaned at two months of age. The daily intake of starter pellets was recorded and live weights at birth, weaning and monthly thereafter. Head circumference, shoulder height and body length were measured at birth, weaning, 6 months, 12 months and 15 months of age. Six bull calves from each group were slaughtered at 2 months and at 6 months of age. The heart and liver of each bull calf was weighed and rumen pH and volume determined.

Feeding milk once or twice a day did not affect (P>0.05) weight at weaning, 90 days, 120 days or 150 days of age. No significant differences were found in head circumference, body length and shoulder height of heifers between treatments. The average daily intake of calf starter pellets from birth to weaning was higher (P=0.04) when milk was fed once a day compared to twice a day. Pellet intake was 546 and 474g per calf per day respectively. From week 8 till weaning, pellet intake differed (P<0.05) and was 1160g per calf per day for the once a day and 993g per calf per day for the twice a day milk feeding treatment. The bodyweights of the bull calves did not differ significantly between treatments. Rumen pH of bull calves did not differ between treatments and varied from 6.57 to 6.74. Treatments did not affect the weight of the hearts and livers of the bull calves. Rumen volume differed (P=0.03) and was 12.2 and 9.83 litre at weaning and 41.4 and 35.7 litre (P=0.02) at six months of age for the once and twice a day milk feeding treatment respectively. Calves fed milk once a day also had increased rumen capacity. Calf health and mortality was not compromised by feeding milk once a day.

Conclusions/recommendation: Feeding milk once a day resulted in higher intake of calf starter pellets and increased rumen capacity. This system is less labour intensive and does not compromise calf growth or calf health and is thus recommended by the authors.


A.P. Myburgh & R. Meeske, 2019. Effect of feeding milk once a day to Jersey calves on growth and rumen development. In: Proc of the 51st Annual Congress of the SASAS, UFS, Bloemfontein, 10-12 June 2019, Abstract 130.