From four to five weeks of age, calves can start to be transitioned to once-a-day milk feeding.

Prior to this, calves are too young and are not eating enough concentrate to allow for once-a-day feeding, as they would not be able to consume enough to meet dietary requirements in one feed.

While many farmers will continue to feed twice a day right up until weaning, there are many benefits for both farmer and calf by going to once-a-day feeding.

These include:

  • Between 25% and 36% reduction in labour requirement for rearing calves.
  • No difference in animal thrive, performance or instances of scour.
  • Rumen development is enhanced due to higher solid feed intake on once-a-day feeding.
  • Calves are eating higher levels of concentrate earlier in life, which can lead to up to two weeks' earlier weaning.
  • However, management needs to be excellent to ensure there are no dietary upsets or reduction in performance.

    In preparation for moving to once-a-day feeding, there are a few key things that must be in place.

    Concentrate feeding

    Calves should be offered concentrate for a number of weeks prior to moving to once a day.

    Intake of concentrate needs to be around 300g/day to 400g/day at the time of transition.

    Where this is not the case, ensure concentrate is offered fresh each day, especially just after milk feeding, as this is the time calves are most likely to seek feed.

    The concentrate should also be fed close to where milk is fed, so that calves will go straight to the trough after milk feeding.

    Transition period

    Ideally, once calves move to once-a-day feeding, they would be fed milk in the morning, so that they are not waiting all day for their milk feed.

    This means that over the course of four or five days, the evening feed should be reduced gradually by no more than a litre at a time every other day.

    Typically, calves on twice-a-day feeding will be on 3l morning and evening, while once calves go to once a day, it is more typically 3.5l to 4l feed.

    Most milk powders can be fed once a day successfully, but you should seek the manufacturers' advice prior to doing so.

    Twice-a-day feeding is usually fed at 12.5% solids, while once-a-day feeding increases the milk powder proportion to 20% solids – again, refer to the manufacturers' instructions of the milk powder you are using.


    Keep a close eye on stock over the transition period. Only calves that are settled on farm, are healthy and thriving should be moved to once-a-day feeding.

    Offer fresh meal in the evening to encourage calves to come to feed. Concentrate should be available at all times with calves.

    Fresh, clean water is really important for calves to help encourage more concentrate intake. Where water troughs are dirty, or more often too high for calves to drink from easily, it will have a negative impact on meal intake.