Livestock Research for Rural Development 28 (5) 2016 Guide for preparation of papers LRRD Newsletter

Citation of this paper

Effect of feeding pellet type complete calf starter combined with maize fodder and molasses on the rumen development of dairy calves

S Mukodiningsih, J Achmadi, F Wahyono, K I Sung1 and S J Ohh1
Department of Animal Science, Faculty of Animal and Agricultural Sciences, Diponegoro University, Semarang-Central Java, Indonesia
1 College of Animal Life Sciences, Kangwon National University, Chuncheon, South Korea.


The aim of the study was to evaluate the value of feeding a complete calf starter (CCS) pellet to dairy calves on the development of the reticulo-rumen. Twenty Friesian-Holstein calves (7-14 days old) with initial body weight of 42 ± 5.5 kg were used. The calves were housed individually and offered the CCS pellet for 7 weeks. The CCS was made of 60% calf starter combined with 35% maize fodder and 5% molasses. At 2 , 4 and 6 weeks of ages, two calves were slaughtered. Concentrations of volatile fatty acids (VFA) and ammonia (NH3) in the rumen, and the number and length of rumen papillae were observed. All data were analyzed according to age as the main variable.

 DM feed intake, rumen concentrations of VFA and NH3, number and length of rumen papillae increased with increasing duration of feeding. It is suggested that the CCS pellet combined with locally available maize fodder and molasses was able to progressively develop the reticulo-rumen without any problem during the development. In conclusion, this study showed that feeding the CCS pellet to dairy calves as early as 7 days after birth could be a useful way to support the reticulo-rumen development.

Key words: complete calf starter, maize fodder, molasses, rumen development


Starter feed is known to promote the development of the reticulo rumen in the calf. A good quality starter feed should contain both calf starter and good quality forage, thereby physically suitable to support reticulo rumen development (Baldwin et al 2004). Calf starters containing grain or other readily available carbohydrate are fermented to produce volatile fatty acid (VFA) in the rumen, especially propionate and butyrate that can stimulate papillary development (Lane et al 2000). Forage or hay given to calves as fiber source could stimulate muscular development of the reticulo rumen (Suarez et al 2007). Therefore, a balanced combination of both grain and fiber sources has been the concern of feed formulators to create a good quality complete calf starter (CCS).

The feeding value of the Indonesian local maize fodder in a CCS for Friesian Holstein (FH) calves was evaluated by Mukodiningsih et al (2008). The study showed that the feeding value of local maize fodder was better than that of rice straw, and a combination of calf starter and maize fodder in mash form was found to be the best starter feed for pre weaning FH calves .  However, relatively poor palatability of maize fodder is a problem for substituting good quality forage. In addition, fine particles in mash form of calf starter caused negative effect on intake and performance of calves, whereas pelleted calf starter has positive effect on intake (Quigley 2001b). Average daily intake tended to be higher with pelleted starter than that of mash starter for 3-6 weeks calves (Ghorbani et al 2007). The dry matter intake in the calf was not reduced when the calf was offered the pellet of barley straw based CCS, which contained 25% starch and 50% NDF (Morisse et al 2000). Those finding suggested that feed pellet form could maintain the intake of CCS even it was combined with a poor quality forage.

The pellet quality (hardness and durability) is affected by the ingredient characteristics (Thomas et al 1998; Cavalcanti and Behnke 2005). Since a feed ingredient with high fiber is mostly problematic to make a good quality pellet, it is difficult to agglomerate a CCS pellet due to high amount of fiber. Therefore, it is necessary to use an ingredient which is capable to improve pellet agglomeration with higher durability. Molasses has been used as a binder ingredient for pellet agglomeration and also as a palatability enhancer for the calf starter (Quigley 2001b) and also used to stimulate the calf rumen development (Lensmeister and Heinrichs 2005). However, there is little information concerning the molasses portion in the CCS pellet with a high content of NDF to support the rumen development of calves.  A typical CCS is generally formulated to contain 5-8% molasses (Fischer et al 2008). If this level is raised to 12%, it may further improve the feed palatability and decreases the dustiness of calf starter (Morales et al 1989). However, Lensmeister and Heinrichs (2005) suggested that a CCS containing 12% molasses decreases feed intake and daily gain. This means that the proper portion of molasses in a good quality CCS pellet needs to be determined to support the appropriate rumen development of new born calf. Previously, the 5% molasses was better than 10% in contributing better physical and biological quality of CCS pellet (Mukodiningsih et al 2010).

The aim of this research was to evaluate the feeding value of a CCS pellet made of local maize fodder and molasses by observing the progress of reticulo-rumen development in the dairy calf.

Materials and Methods

The experimental CCS was formulated using 60% calf starter, 35% local maize fodder meal and 5% molasses. The composition and ingredients of the calf starter were similar with that of previous study (Mukodiningsih et al 2010). Crude protein and TDN contents in the calf starter were 18% and 75%, respectively (NRC 2001). The CCS mixture was pelleted with steam conditioning at 75-80˚C for about 15 seconds, and pellet pressed with 6 mm diameter die, then dried until the final moisture content of 13% (Mukodiningsih et al 2010).

The study was conducted using experimental facilities and animals of the Indonesian National Dairy Farm. Twenty FH male calves with 42 ± 5.5 kg of initial body weight and aged 7-14 days old were used. The calves were housed individually, and fed 40% CCS and 60% milk, twice a day at 7:00 AM and 3:00 PM for 7 weeks. The CCS was offered 30 min after milk feeding (Morisse et al 2000), and drinking water was provided ad libitum and changed twice a day (Lesmeister and Heinrichs 2005). Daily CCS intake and body weight gain of each calf were recorded throughout the period of the feeding trial. Two calves at ages of 2, 4, and 6 weeks each, were slaughtered, to observe the development of their reticulo-rumen. In each calf, the rumen was immediately removed after slaughtering, then rumen fluid was filtered through four layers of cheese cloth. Rumen fluid sample from each collection was divided into two parts, used for determination of ammonia (NH3) and total volatile fatty acids (VFA) concentrations, respectively. The number and length of rumen papillae were measured in each calf according to Lesmeister et al (2004). Totally 9 observation points for each rumen were measured. The proximate components and NDF of CCS were analyzed according to AOAC (1990) and van Soest (1994), respectively. The concentrations of rumen NH3 and VFA were respectively determined according to methods using gas chromatograph (AOAC 1990) and UV/VIS spectrophotometer (Chaney and Marbach 1962). All experimental data were statistically analyzed by taking age as a variable.

Results and Discussion

Feed intake

Daily dry matter intake of both CCS and milk increased with increasing age of calves (Table 1). The gradual increase of daily intake indicated that the experimental calves had grown without any problem. In other words, the experimental CCS pellet was presumed not to cause any problems  not only for palatability but also for the rumen fermentation. In addition, this result showed that the calf starter could be used for calves as early as 2 weeks of age although Preston (1957) suggested that feeding calf starter may replace the milk diet of calf at age of 3 weeks. The daily dry matter intake of solid feed in calves was reported to be 50 g at 3 weeks of age, then increasing up to 1300 g at 20 weeks of age (Morisse et al 2000; NRC 2001). In this study, the daily solid feed intake at 2 weeks of age was 72 g, which indicates the CCS pellet was easily consumed by the young calf.

Table 1. Daily dry matter intakes of CCS and milk (Values are means of 20 calves)


Daily intake, g DM
















Concentrations of r umen VFA and NH3

The rumen cocentration of VFA increased with the age of the calf (Table 2) although the VFA was initially lower for first 2 weeks after start of CCS feeding. The VFA is known as the main product of carbohydrate fermentation in the rumen (Murphy 1999; Quigley 2001a). The higher molasses portion in the diet resulted in a higher rumen VFA concentration according to Araba et al (2002) and blood VFA level (Lesmeister and Heinrichs 2005). Therefore, the increase of rumen VFA in this study would be a response to the successful intake of fermentable carbohydrate including molasses. The VFA level of this study was higher than reported values. Previously, the calf fed on maize fodder mixed CCS produced 35.7 mM concentration of rumen VFA at 9 weeks of age (Mukodiningsih et al 2008). Rey et al (2012) reported that calves fed on milk replacer combined with calf starter during 12 – 83 days of age produced from 19.5 mM to 84.4 mM rumen VFA levels.

Table 2. Rumen VFA and NH3 concentrations (Values are means of two calves).





                   --------------------------- mM ----------------------










Dietary protein is fermented by enzymes of rumen microbes to produce amonia (NH3). In this study, the ruminal NH3 levels also increased with increasing age of calf (Table 2). Ammonia is known as the main nitrogen for microbial protein synthesis in rumen, along with the availability of VFA as energy source (Preston and Leng 1987). The concomitant increases in both rumen VFA and NH3 levels were resulted by feeding CCS in this study. This result indicated that there should be a successful growth of rumen microbes in calf. Maharani et al (2014) reported that feeding molasses contained CCS resulted an increase in the growth of total rumen bacteria and protozoa in calf.

Number and length of rumen papillae

Table 3. Number and length of rumen papillae of calves (Values are means of two calves, 9 observations per each calf).



Number of papillae
(per10 EPU)

Length of papillae










Both number and length of rumen papillae were increased by feeding CCS (Table 3). Enhanced rumen VFA level was presumed to contribute to the development of rumen papillae of the calf. Ruminal propionate and butyrate produced from fermentative digestion of dietary carbohydrate are known to stimulate ruminal papillary development, because propionate and butyrate are absorbed from rumen into blood via rumen papillae (Lane et al 2000).  It was also suggested (Suarez et al 2007) that the fiber portion in CCS may, more or less, stimulate muscular development of the reticulo-rumen.

In this experiment, introducing CCS to the calf at as early as 2 weeks of age did not cause any adverse effect but did stimulate the rumen development. This means that dairy caves could be weaned as early as 6 weeks of age since the rumen was able to well adapt to coarse feed by that age. This agrees with Coverdale et al (2004) and Suarez et al (2007), who reported that the calf weaned at 6 weeks of age performed well enough as a replacement stock for producing milk or meat. Pina  et al (2001) reported that early weaning for dual purpose calves produced higher milk tyield than late weaning.  



The research was supported by Indonesia Directorate General of Higher Education with funding scheme of collaboration research and international publication, 2013.


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Received 8 April 2016; Accepted 19 April 2016; Published 1 May 2016

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