40FIT FEEDING PLAN: The first 40 days in a calf’s life are extremely important

Published on Mon, 04/25/2016 - 2:28pm

An intensive feeding plan tailored to the calf’s needs will have a lifelong positive impact on the animal’s resilience and performance. It also minimizes the risk of disease and ensures a faster and stronger immune system response when the animal is exposed to pathogens. Modern automatic feeders allow the farmer to implement an intensive feeding in practice and are essential for successful rearing. They can be used in individual and group housing. Thanks to automated processes, feeding calves requires even considerably less work than manual or mechanized feeding.

Why is intensive feeding so important in the first weeks?

A calf’s nutrition during the first few weeks of life has a huge impact on how its organs will function later. Organs grow primarily through cell division before birth and during the first 40 days of life. This affects tissue quality, which will affect the animal’s performance. Later on, organs grow more and more as the result of the increase in the volume and mass of existing cells.

Technology meets nutritional physiology

German company Förster-Technik GmbH, a world leader in calf-feeding systems for 45 years, developed the 40FIT plan based on this knowledge. The plan maximizes the growth potential of calves during their first weeks of life. Feeding can be configured so that the calf receives 1 to 1.2 kg of dry matter. Calves can only digest milk during their first weeks. As a result, the goal is to dispense approximately 10 liters of whole milk or an appropriate milk powder feed. The number and size of the individual portions should be adjusted according to the age of the calf. Three to four or more portions per day are recommended. Automated feeding systems or automatic feeders such as the VARIO smart are the easiest way of managing these feedings. They have been used successfully for many years for calves kept in group pens.

Since intensive feeding is extremely important particularly during the first 14 days and calves are usually kept in individual pens during this period, Förster-Technik GmbH developed the CalfRail, which allows calves to receive freshly prepared, warm feed up to eight times per day as early as the second day of life. Experience shows that calves consume an average of 10-12 liters of whole milk during the first week and gain 800 to 1000 grams of weight per day. The CalfRail has already been a success in Europe for five years. The system is now also a hit with dairy farmers in North America, where it was introduced two years ago.

Intensive vs. restrictive feeding

Feeding tests by Förster-Technik GmbH and research institutions in Europe and the U.S. showed that restrictively fed calves visit the automatic feeder 10 times per day on average with some calves visiting up to 30 times per day. Only five to six visits were rewarded with actual feed. By contrast, calves fed on the 40FIT plan only visited the feeder five or six times. With very few exceptions, calves consumed 1.5 to 2.5 liters of feed during every visit.

Restrictively fed calves tended to be constantly restless, licked and sucked on their pen mates, pen equipment and walls and consumed more bedding material. This behavior is harmful for many reasons. For one, calves need a lot more energy for movement and thermoregulation. Also, these calves take in many more germs from their surroundings than other calves in the pen that rest peacefully in the hay.

The benefits of intensive feeding

Many other studies come to the same conclusion regarding the long-term effects on the future milk yield of calves that are fed intensively during the rearing period. Intensively fed calves are healthier and therefore grow better; they can perform longer and their milk yield is higher.


  • An intensive supply of energy during the early feeding period helps develop a strong immune system and achieve high weight gains. This lays the foundation for successful rearing, good fertility and high milk yields and growth performance.
  • Feeding age-appropriate portions to calves more than three times a day is recommended.
  • Intensively fed calves are healthier and grow better. This can significantly reduce the need for medication.