Envisioning a future where dairy farm giants embark on their life journey with enhanced health, productivity, and well-being isn’t far-fetched. This vision, anchored in the smallest of steps—reassessing the nutrition we offer our youngest herd members—holds the potential to redefine dairy farming. Such a transformative journey begins at the very outset with our approach to calf feeding. Far beyond mere sustenance, it’s about establishing a bedrock for enduring benefits that extend across the calves’ lifespan and ripple through the dairy industry. A shift in calf nutrition practices, rooted in both wisdom and innovation, marks the starting point for this envisioned future of dairy farming excellence. Remember, calves never really get over a bad or good start, so ensure they get a good start! In an industry where the first few months of a calf’s life can determine its future productivity, understanding and optimizing early nutrition is paramount. Dr. Alois (Al) Kertz of ANDHIL LLC, in his comprehensive analysis published in Applied Animal Science, offers profound insights into the evolution and impact of calf feeding strategies on dairy farming’s future.  Even more is offered in his book (see the cover below).

At the heart of modern calf rearing is the transition from traditional to more sophisticated feeding protocols. Dr. Kertz emphasizes, “It is critical to know and measure composition and solids levels and to ensure consistency in what liquid is fed and how it is fed.” This meticulous approach to liquid feeding, particularly with milk or milk replacers, underpins a holistic strategy aiming for heightened growth and health outcomes.

One of the more significant shifts in calf nutrition involves the intake of calf starter. The relationship between milk replacer and calf starter intake plays a critical role in the development of the calf’s digestive system. Dr. Kertz highlights, “There is an inverse relationship between the amount of milk or milk replacer fed and calf starter intake.” This balance is crucial for ensuring the calf’s rumen develops properly, preparing it for a lifetime of productivity.

Dr. Kertz also draws attention to the necessity of water, an often-underestimated nutrient. “Water is the most essential nutrient needed in the greatest quantity by dairy calves,” he asserts, underlining the importance of providing calves with immediate access to fresh water during the milk feeding phase. This practice supports solid feed intake, promoting overall health and growth. The modern approach to calf feeding, as outlined by Dr. Kertz, signifies a significant evolution from past methodologies. “Given the inverse relationship between milk replacer fed (and its fat level) and calf starter intake, the challenge then is to moderate milk replacer feeding early enough prior to weaning,” he advises. This strategic adjustment ensures calves develop functional rumens, setting the stage for their future as productive members of the dairy herd. Furthermore, Dr. Kertz touches on the environmental considerations of calf rearing, emphasizing the provision of warm water in colder climates to enhance growth efficiency and well-being. In conclusion, the comprehensive analysis and recommendations provided by Dr. Kertz not only aim to elevate calf welfare but also to lay a solid foundation for the dairy industry’s future. Through a combination of traditional wisdom and modern research, his work offers dairy producers a pathway to more efficient, effective, and humane calf rearing practices, promising a new era of dairy farming excellence.


Kertz, A.F., “Perspective and Commentary: Dairy Calf Feeding and Nutrition Major Variables and Subsequent Performance”, Applied Animal Science, 2023.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.15232/aas.2023-02453.


Alois (Al) F. Kertz grew up on a small Missouri dairy farm. He earned B.S. and M. S. degrees in dairy husbandry and nutrition from the University of Missouri under the tutelage of John Campbell.  He completed 2 years of US Army active duty as a research Nutrition Officer, and then managing food supply for military operations and platoon leader in Thailand. At Cornell University, his major professor was J. T. (Tom) Reid with a Ph. D. thesis project on growth and development of cattle. That became a great platform for understanding and working with calves, heifers, dry cows, and lactating cows and their bodily changes and metabolism. In 1973, he began employment under the direction of J.P. Everett, Jr. at Ralston Purina Company. J.P. became another mentor from whom Al began to learn about calves and heifers while conducting 160 calf and heifer trials.

The basis for his book are the many Feedstuffs columns which he has written—many of which are excerpted and edited into this book; the Young Calf Model from the 2001 Dairy NRC publication for which he was a reviewer; and the 100-year review in the December 2017 Journal of Dairy Science on Calf Nutrition and Management made possible only through the major work by 5 co-authors: Mark Hill, Jim Quigley, Jud Heinrichs, Jim Linn, and Jim Drackley. In addition, there were the on-going grounding and understanding of practical applications provided by visiting, reviewing, and developing recommendations for many dairy operations in the U.S. and in many other countries as well. These visits often provided insights into how science could meet application. That became an on-going learning process for if the science was not applicable, then maybe we did not understand the science, or how to apply it.