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The Importance Of Predictive Modeling On Young Animal Nutrition 

  • Modeling done in industry studies helps us get the nutrition needs for young animals right.

  • Models help determine when to start providing young animals with specific nutrients to optimize them for long term productivity.

  • Data helps feed producers determine what the right nutrient blend should be.


The Importance Of Predictive Modeling On Young Animal Nutrition

A recent study in the Journal of Dairy Science, authored by Cargill researchers, showed that they were able to develop models to predict dry feed intake in Holstein calves up to four months of age. Five nonlinear models and three linear models were identified.

But what do these models tell us, and why are they important to have? It all comes down to helping farmers get the timing right to provide the appropriate level of young animal nutrition, which can increase health, wellness and productivity down the line.

For the sake of example, we broke down the importance of the latest predictive models for dairy calves below, but the same principles apply to all species; models help us get the timing and nutrition for young animals right.

The Perfect Timing

As a farmer, you want to know how much the calf is eating to select the appropriate point to wean the animal off milk. For calves to become high-producing cows, they must have a successful transition from a milk-based diet to a grain and forage-based diet.

It is a tricky process – if you take away the milk too soon, the calf will struggle because its gastrointestinal tract has not developed enough to digest dry feed. Young calves will begin exploring grain at an early age, and the earlier grain consumption begins, the earlier rumen development starts.

If you wean the calf too late, then you lose money – we know that milk is more expensive than grain. But, if you can know over three months what the calf will eat per day, you can determine how much that will cost and better plan resources.

With the models' help, you can know exactly when that perfect time to start weaning the calves is so that the calves can digest properly, but you are not losing productivity.

The Perfect Nutritional Blend

From a nutritional standpoint, knowing when to wean the calf helps determine what nutrients you need to include in the starter feed mix, i.e. how much protein, fat, energy, vitamin A, biotin, etc.

To determine the nutrient needs, you need to know how much grain the calf will eat. And that in itself is a delicate balance, just like the timing of when to wean the calf. If there is too much of a specific nutrient, it can have adverse effects on the animal and the environment. Too little, and the calf will not reach peak health and productivity.

The models help the feed producer to determine that perfect balance. By predicting dry feed intake, they can develop the ideal nutrient blend to give calves the perfect head start to their life.

Acting On The Models

At the end of the day, the models are mathematical equations that can be created in any spreadsheet for formulation computer program. The important question is – does the model accurately and precisely predict intake? Cargill chose to publish the data to show clearly that our models are held to the highest standards.  Our models were exhaustively evaluated by outside reviewers who checked our organization, methods, results and interpretation. And we want to make sure that customers have confidence that they’ll get the “right” answers when they work with Cargill, that means also helping with interpretation.

It is not expected that every farmer will memorize and stay on top of the latest models – that would be an enormous undertaking on top of an already busy day. That is where having a partner you can trust to know the latest industry information comes in handy. And these models are not just being updated for dairy calves – researchers optimize timing and nutrient requirements for young animals in swine, poultry and aquaculture too.

If you want to learn more about the models discovered in the study, how to utilize them to optimize your calves’ nutrition, or any of the latest studies on young animal nutrition, contact your Cargill representative or start a conversation here



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