Effects of forage offering method on performance, rumen fermentation, nutrient digestibility and nutritional behaviour in Holstein dairy calves.J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl) 2016; 100(5):820-7JA
The potential effect of dietary forage supplementation on the performance and rumen development in dairy calves is well established. However, limited research has been directed to the comparative effects of forage offering methods on calf performance. The objective of the present study was to determine the effects of forage provision methods (total mixed ration or free choice) on the performance, nutrient digestibility, rumen fermentation and nutritional behaviour in newborn calves. Forty-five Holstein dairy calves (3 days of age and 41 ± 2 kg of body weight) were assigned to the following three groups (n = 15): (i) starter without forage provision (CON), (ii) starter supplemented with 10% alfalfa hay (AH) as a total mixed ration (AH-TMR) and (iii) starter and AH as a free-choice provision (AH-FC) for a period of 70 days. All the calves were offered 5 l of milk/day from day 3 to 50, and 2.5 l/day from day 50 until weaning on day 56. Dry matter intake (DMI) was greater (p < 0.01) in the AH-TMR and AH-FC treatments than in the CON during the pre- and post-weaning periods. Calves fed the AH-FC diet showed the highest post-weaning DMI among the treatments. The calves receiving ad libitum forage tended (p = 0.08) to increase crude protein digestibility and overall volatile fatty acids (VFA) concentrations in the rumen. No differences were observed among the treatments at the time spent on standing, lying, eating and performing non-nutritive oral behaviours. Compared to CON calves, animals in the AH-TMR treatment spent more time (p < 0.05) ruminating. In conclusion, our data suggest that forage supplementation in both forage offering methods increased total DMI, ruminal pH and ruminating time in dairy calves. Hence, there is no benefit in the free-choice provision of AH in dairy calves.