Effects of free-choice hay and straw bedding on digestion of nutrients in 7-week-old Holstein calves



      Bedding with long straw improves animal health and performance but could affect digestibility measurements if calves consume the bedding. Feeding hay with calf starters is common practice; however due to the limited capacity of the young calf’s rumen, high levels of roughage can lead to decreased DMI, digestibility, and ADG. The objectives of this study were to evaluate the effect of long-straw bedding and free-choice hay on nutrient digestibility in calves less than 2 mo old.

      Materials and Methods

      Sixteen calves (45.4 ± 1.18 kg of BW, 3 d of age) were bedded on long wheat straw or on rubber mats and fed diets with or without free-choice, long-grass hay. Calves were fed a 25% CP, 17% fat milk-replacer powder at 0.66 kg of DM 2 times per day for 35 d and then 0.33 kg of milk replacer 1 time per day for 7 d. Milk replacer was diluted to 14% DM. Calves were fed free-choice textured starter and water for the entire 56-d trial. Hay was 5.4% CP and 62.8% NDF (DM basis). Digestibility was estimated on d 47 to 51 using acid insoluble ash in feeds and feces as an internal marker.

      Results and Discussion

      Hay intake varied and reduced the digestion of dietary DM, OM, CP, and fat by calves. As hay intake increased, digestion of OM decreased linearly.

      Implications and Applications

      Long wheat straw as bedding did not change estimates of digestion in young calves consuming coarse, textured starter, whereas moderate- to low-quality hay intake reduced digestion.

      Key words

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