3 tips for rumen development in weaned calves

3 tips for rumen development in weaned calves

On Friday, my family is headed to the neighbor’s ranch to help wean 500+ calves, which will be loaded directly onto cattle trucks that will head to the local sale barn. While there are definitely pros and cons to selling directly off the cow, for the producers who choose to background calves before selling, there are a few considerations to developing the rumen in newly weaned calves.

Janna Kincheloe, South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension research associate, and Adele Harty, SDSU Extension cow-calf field specialist, discuss the considerations for developing the calf rumen on SDSU Extension’s iGrow website.

Here are three tips for consideration:

1. Understand digestive physiology.


Proper nutrition helps to get weaned calves off to a healthy start while also encouraging efficient gains and increasing profitability for producers who choose to background. Going back to the basics and thinking of the four compartments in the calf’s stomach — rumen, reticulum, omasum, and abomasum — each have a role in efficient digestion of fibrous feeds. However, the rumen is the most important.

According to the article, “The rumen is the largest compartment and is where the majority of fermentation takes place with the assistance of billions of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. The rumen microbial population digests fiber components (i.e. cellulose and hemicellulose) to yield by-products such as microbial protein and volatile fatty acids (VFAs). Protein that is digested in the rumen is used to support microbial function and growth, while VFAs are primarily absorbed and utilized as energy by the animal.”

2. Remember the rumen develops from birth and changes at the introduction of solid feed.

Harty and Kincheloe write, “When calves are born, their initial digestive processes are similar to simple-stomached animals (monogastrics) such as pigs in order to maximize digestion of milk proteins, fats, and simple sugars. Rumen development begins within the first several days to weeks after birth, and is advanced by exposure to bacteria from the environment and consumption of solid feed. The production of VFAs from solid feed stimulates development of the epithelium, which increases surface area in the rumen. Both hay and grain are important for production of VFA’s and rumen development.”

3. Take it slow with your weaning ration.

Depending on the available feedstuffs and forages you have available will largely determine your receiving ration for your weaned calves. Harty and Kincheloe recommend turning the weaned calves back onto pasture for several days, if at all possible. If not, consider a forage-based diet with supplements.

The pair write, “Concentrates that are high in digestible fiber and moderate to low in starch such as distiller’s grains, wheat middlings, and soybean hulls have been shown to provide adequate gain without the potential management issues associated with starch-based concentrates. A 50-60% concentrate ration is typically recommended for normally weaned calves. Good quality grass hay or medium quality alfalfa hay should be fed for the first several days at around 2% of body weight, followed by the introduction of concentrate. Utilizing a mix of forage and concentrate will stimulate rumen capacity and development, resulting in a healthy microbial population and optimizing health and performance of weaned calves.”

What is your strategy for developing a proper weaning ration when backgrounding calves? Share your tips in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

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