The objective was to determine the relationships between early-life parameters [including average daily gain (ADG), body weight (BW), milk replacer intake, starter intake, and birth season] and the first-lactation performance of Holstein cows. We collected data from birth years 2004 to 2012 for 2,880 Holstein animals. Calves were received from 3 commercial dairy farms and enrolled in 37 different calf research trials at the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center from 3 to 195 d. Upon trial completion, calves were returned to their respective farms. Milk replacer options included varying protein levels and amounts fed, but in the majority of studies, calves were fed a milk replacer containing 20% crude protein and 20% fat at 0.57 kg/calf daily. Most calves (93%) were weaned at 6 wk. Milk replacer dry matter intake, starter intake, ADG, and BW at 6 wk were 21.5 ± 2.2 kg, 17.3 ± 7.3 kg, 0.53 ± 0.13 kg/d, and 62.4 ± 6.8 kg, respectively. Average age at first calving and first-lactation 305-d milk yield were 715 ± 46.5 d and 10,959 ± 1,527 kg, respectively. We conducted separate mixed-model analyses using the REML model-fitting protocol of JMP (SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC) to determine the effect of early-life BW or ADG, milk replacer and starter intake, and birth season on first-lactation 305-d milk, fat, and true protein yield. Greater BW and ADG at 6 wk resulted in increased first-lactation milk and milk component yields. Intake of calf starter at 8 wk had a significant positive relationship with first-lactation 305-d yield of milk and milk components. Milk replacer intake, which varied very little in this data set, had no effect on first-lactation 305-d yield of milk and milk components. Calves born in the fall and winter had greater starter intake, BW, and ADG at 8 wk. However, calves born in the summer had a higher 305-d milk yield during their first lactation than those born in the fall and winter. Improvements were modest, and variation was high, suggesting that additional factors not accounted for in these analyses affected first-lactation performance.
- early-life growth
- first-lactation yield