“The new facility is really state of the art, it’s going to provide us [the chance] to give the highest level of animal care and comfort to those calves, and allow us to use more modern research techniques and really optimize the nutrition and growth of calves,” Kevin Hoepker, animal milk products division general manager, told FeedNavigator.
The US company has been involved with research into calf production since 1949, he said.
And the new 20,000 square foot building outside of St Louis marks a “significant investment” for the company.
Current focus and the ‘biggest impact’
Animal nutrition research examining calf nutrition hasn’t been “cutting edge” in several years, said Hoepker, but the new facility is one step toward changing that.
The company is set to focus on optimizing the use of automated calf feeders for nutrition and pasteurized milk balancing agents along with an ongoing look into new protein blends, he said.
“Around 55% [of calves] get fed milk tank milk that could be used for human consumption or waste milk, and when they feed that to the calves, a lot of producers will think that’s all they need,” he said. “But you really need to supplement that, and most dairies won’t have enough to feed all their calves, so you need to concentrate it and we have products using a protein blend to get more nutrition into those calves.”
Although there is an industry trend toward using auto-feeders to minimize some of the labor needed to produce calves, work remains to make the technology more efficient and effective, the manager said.
The company’s focus continues to be on the health and optimal nutrition of young calves, because early nutrition has long-term effects on the calf, he said.
“We’re finding that the biggest impact is nutrition and getting high-quality nutrition into the calves is the best thing for calf health,” said Hoepker. “We see the benefit of more nutrition early and that’s going to help them with their return on investment.”
The new building can manage about 204 calves at one time and is expected to have about six separate groups of test calves in a year, he said. About 18 to 20 calves may be needed for any one research project.
“It’s a new facility with the latest technology, and we’ve incorporated the use of bottles to feed calves,” said Hoepker.
The new building allows for both natural ventilation and forced air ventilation and influence from outside temperature conditions, he added.
Future research: protein blends, antibiotic replacement
In addition to other projects, work on different protein blend products is set to be an ongoing focus for the new facility, said Hoepker. He added, that the company will “continue to look under every rock to make sure that we can evaluate different proteins that can be used for calves.”
“We’re looking at more of the components, from protein to energy sources and types of fat, all that is being looked at,” he said.
Although some work in the area was done in the 1980s and 1990s, programs and understanding about nutrition has changed since then and many producers use more powder per calf per day than they once did, he said. “We continue to evaluate if we need to do something differently,” he added.
The company also is planning research into antibiotic replacement, and to continue work with US-based research universities and programs, said Hoepker.
“The impending veterinary feed directive is going to remove several antibiotics that are available today, so we’re working with some other companies looking at nutraceuticals or natural type products that could help with calf health,” he said.