A calf’s successful transition from a milk-based diet to a diet of grain and forages requires proper rumen development. However, rumen development is a process that takes time. Regardless of how much milk one is feeding calves or what age they are at weaning time, if the rumen is not ready, calves are going to struggle after weaning. Failure to prepare the rumen can stall calf growth or put calves at greater risk for illness because of nutritional stress. Both situations will cost real money and diminish the value of has been done with that calf up to the time of weaning.
In a recent Extension Badger Dairy InSights Webinar focusing on Calf and Heifer Development, Dairy & Livestock Agent Tina Kohlman developed and presented “Developing the calf from the inside out: A discussion of rumen development”. Calves are born with a non-function rumen, the stomach compartment responsible for the fermentation digestion of forages. As calf raisers, it is their responsibility to help the calf’s non-functioning rumen develop into a functioning rumen within the first 8 weeks of life by providing 5 key ingredients: grain, water, bacteria, muscular movement, and nutrient absorption ability. Kohlman discussed the anatomy and physiology of the newborn’s rumen as compared to an 8-week old calf, the importance of rumen development on the long-term health and growth of the calf, and how we can influence rumen development to help calf raisers, managers, and feeders better understand their role in rumen development.