Making sure calves, lambs, and kids have access to dry feed and water early in life improves rumen development, encourages weight gain, and provides a good start for a healthy growing animal.
Karla Wilke describes why in her recent BeefWatch article, using cattle as an example. One-month-old calves begin eating the cow’s feed and small amounts of grass. “This solid food intake is important for muscular development of the rumen as well as microbial growth necessary to develop rumen function,” she says. But, if they don’t have enough water, they eat less dry matter, slowing rumen development. In addition, water provides “habitat” for ruminal bacteria to live in. To ferment grain and hay, rumen bacteria must live in water and without it, ruminal development is slowed.
Graziers sometimes think that because a young animal is still nursing, it doesn’t need water. But, mother’s milk is not a replacement for water in a growing calf. Most suckled milk skips the rumen and heads straight to the abomasum so that milk’s highly digestible protein and energy can be quickly absorbed and go straight to tissue growth for the rapidly growing calf. It’s water that prevents dehydration and also helps the rumen function as it develops its ability to process dry feed.
Water is important to young animals, even in early spring when temperatures are cooler. Wilke reports that research shows that found that at 70 degrees F, calves consuming 0.8 gallons of milk replacer and 2.2 lb of starter feed also drank 0.66 gallons of water per day.
Make sure your watering system can serve young animals as well as their mothers. It will mean a lot to your future success.
There’s a lot more to learn about early rumen development…
The experiences your young livestock have early in life can shape their physiology, helping them develop larger rumens and improved digestion capabilities so they can thrive on less nutritious forages. Liver function can also be enhanced or reduced by early experience with toxins in plants.
For more on how early experience can shape individuals check out this article on research from Fred Provenza and his colleagues at Utah State University:
An Animal’s Early Experience Outside Can Change Its Body Inside
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