From calf to cow: where should the focus lie?

For a sustainable dairy cow, we aim for six lactations on average. There are many factors that influence this, such as claw and udder health, as well as environmental influences. Some of these factors can be influenced, while others are beyond our control. One factor that we can influence is how we breed young stock. In this article we will discuss whether Adlib feeding as compared to restricted feeding makes a difference when breeding young stock.


Research on adlib feeding

Fiebig et al., 1985 indicates that when young stock received adlib feeding as opposed to restricted feeding in their first 40 days, their organs grew more when they were older. Research stated that cell multiplication mainly took place in the first 40 days of life; after this stage there was mainly cell growth. An adlib feeding schedule in the first 40 days would therefore stimulate cell multiplication, so that animals would have larger organs and weigh more later on in life. Other studies (Foldager et al, 1997; Drackley et al, 2007) showed that an adlib feeding schedule resulted in an increase in milk production of 1,701 lbs of milk during the first lactation.

Lely Farm Management Research

Recently Lely Farm Management Support (FMS) started a practical trial on two farms with a Lely Calm to find out if we can substantiate these studies. To prove the concept on both farms a young stock weighing scale, an automatic concentrate feeder and software was installed to monitor weight, feed intake, drinking speed, number of visits, etc. Wither height and chest width was also measured every three months. For 11 months each newborn calf was randomly directed to either the adlib feeding schedule or the restricted feeding schedule (see table 1). Calves were weaned at 70 days of age and when they were 80 days old they were moved to a different group where they all received the same ration.

Days in age







Manually 3 x 1.5L

Manually 3 x 1.5L


3.5-4.5 L

6.0-10.0 L


4.5-6.0 L

10.0 L


6.0 L

10.0 L


6.0 L

10.0-2.0 L


6.0-2.0 L

Table 1: Adlib feeding schedule vs. restricted feeding schedule.
*portion 10-24 days: 1.5-2.0 L and 25-70 days: 2.0-2.5 L
*For the trial milk powder with 30% skimmed milk was used. Concentration was 125g/L. 2-40 days 160g/L was only used for the adlib feeding schedule.


Results showed that at 70 days of age the calves in the adlib feeding schedule were 11 lbs heavier than calves following the restricted feeding schedule. In the period between 10 and 40 days the adlib calves were drinking an average of 9 L of milk and had a slower drinking speed, but there was no significant difference in concentrate intake.

At 50 days of age we measured a significant difference in chest width between the Adlib and restricted feeding group. On both farms the Adlib-fed group of calves had a wider chest, 1.56 and 1.24 inches respectively. On one farm we found a significant difference of plus 1.17 inches in the wither height for the Adlib-fed calves. So far we have monitored the calves until they are almost one year old. It seems that the difference in chest width and wither height among Adlib-fed calves is maintained while they are growing.

Continuation of research

During the next two years we will monitor these herds to see if the adlib calves also produce more milk during their first lactation period. We will do so because research has stated that udder tissue is better developed in calves with an adlib feeding schedule. Will the adlib feeding schedule give us more sustainable dairy cows that produce more milk, live longer and are more efficient? We will find out the answers to these questions in the next two years.

Lely Farm Management Support