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Effect of increasing the amount of hay fed on Holstein calf performance and digestibility from 2 to 4 months of age

ABSTRACTA good transition from a mainly liquid diet to a solid diet of concentrates and forages is important considering the small size and development of the calf's rumen. However, the optimal amount of hay or other high-fiber ingredients in the diet of recently weaned calves is not well defined. The objective of this trial was to determine the effects of feeding 0, 5, or 10% chopped grass hay (6.5% crude protein, 64.6% neutral detergent fiber) with a textured, high-starch starter (20.5% crude protein, 38.4% starch, 14.1% neutral detergent fiber; protein pellet, whole corn, and oats) on performance and digestion in Holstein steer calves between 2 and 4 mo of age. Forty-eight calves (initial body weight = 90.7 ± 2.15 kg) were housed in group pens (4 per pen) and fed diets and water for ad libitum intake. Feed offered and refused was measured daily. Calf body weight, hip width, and body condition score (1–5 scale) were measured initially and at 28 and 56 d. Fecal samples were collected from the pen floor with care not to sample bedding material and composited by pen during d 5–9, 26–30, and 47–51 to estimate apparent total-tract digestibility using acid-insoluble ash. Data were analyzed as a completely randomized design with repeated measures and pen as the experimental unit. As grass hay increased, dry matter intake (kg/d) decreased linearly but tended to change quadratically. Dry matter intake as a % of body weight changed quadratically with increasing hay, increasing from 0 to 5%, and decreasing from 5 to 10% hay. Average daily gain (1.15, 1.12, and 0.95 kg/d), feed efficiency (0.336, 0.319, and 0.309 kg of average daily gain/kg of dry matter intake), and hip width change (4.6, 4.7, and 4.1) decreased linearly with 0, 5, and 10% hay, respectively. Overall estimates of dry matter, organic matter, neutral detergent fiber, acid detergent fiber, and crude protein digestibility changed quadratically with hay, increasing from 0 to 5%, and decreasing from 5 to 10% hay, whereas digestibility of starch, sugar, and fat decreased linearly with increasing hay. Digestibility of dry matter, organic matter, neutral detergent fiber, and acid detergent fiber increased from 2 to 3 mo of age, and decreased from 3 to 4 mo of age. Digestibility of starch decreased linearly and digestibility of fat and crude protein increased linearly with age. Digestive capacity did not appear mature by 4 mo of age. Feeding 5% chopped hay supported optimal digestion and growth in calves 2 to 4 mo of age, which agrees with previously published research.

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