Increasing grass hay inclusion level on weaned dairy calf growth, intake, digestibility, and ruminal fermentation

L. K. Mitchell, A. J. Heinrichs

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The objective was to determine effects of increasing grass hay (GH) inclusion level on weaned dairy calf growth, intake, digestibility, and ruminal fermentation. Holstein calves (n = 45) were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 total mixed rations with increasing GH [10, 17.5, or 25% on a dry matter (DM) basis; LGH, MGH, or HGH, respectively]. Calves were weaned at 6 wk of age, housed individually, and studied from 7 to 16 wk of age. Rations, consisting of texturized calf starter (20% crude protein) and coarsely chopped GH, were offered ad libitum as separate components from 7 to 9 wk of age. After 9 wk, feed was offered as a total mixed ration containing the assigned level of GH and fed according to the clean bunk feeding strategy as a means of limiting refusals. Initial 9-wk body weight was 81.6 ± 9 kg (mean ± standard deviation). Intake and growth were measured weekly. Blood samples were collected at 9, 10, 12, 14, and 16 wk of age for analysis of plasma glucose and β-hydroxybutyrate. Total fecal collection (12 calves; 4 per treatment) was conducted at 11 and 15 wk of age for 4 d consecutively. Rumen samples were collected over the final 24 h of each fecal collection period to evaluate pH and volatile fatty acid profile. Feeds and feces were evaluated for DM, neutral detergent fiber, acid detergent fiber, and starch to estimate total-tract digestibility. Intake and weight gain were analyzed from 7 to 9 wk and 9 to 16 wk, representing pretreatment and treatment periods. No differences were observed between treatments from 7 to 9 wk. However, differences were found from 9 to 16 wk. Final body weight, average daily gain, DM intake, and metabolizable energy intake all decreased with increased GH. However, skeletal frame measurements did not vary between treatments. Plasma β-hydroxybutyrate tended to decrease with increased GH. No differences were observed in DM or starch digestibility, but neutral detergent fiber and acid detergent fiber digestibility increased with increased GH. Mean rumen pH and total volatile fatty acid did not change with increasing GH inclusion; however, there was an interaction with time indicating that ruminal fermentation patterns throughout the day were different for calves offered MGH and HGH versus those offered LGH. These results indicate that feeding levels of GH >10% reduce growth and intake before 16 wk and alter ruminal fermentation patterns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9012-9023
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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