Written by: Lacie Dotterweich | May 4, 2020
Ever since I was a young child, I have looked forward to spring. Not just for the warm weather and the end of the school year, but because that meant my local Theisen’s farm supply store (it’s an Iowa thing) would have cute baby chicks. All year long, my family would drive past the Theisen’s and I would ask to go in and see the chicks. Most of the time, my request was answered with, “They aren’t there right now, it’s not spring.” So, I would agonizingly wait for spring.
Fast forward a few years and I still look forward to spring and seeing baby chicks and other animals, but now wonder about them in a different perspective since coming to work for the animal food industry. What do these baby animals need to grow into healthy adults? How is it different than feed for adult animals? Why are so many baby animals born in the spring anyway?
Generally, young animals are more sensitive to nutritional imbalances and are less resilient than older animals. They typically need the same nutrients as adults, but to meet the specific needs for their growing bodies, the feed is often much more nutrient dense and often includes more specialized ingredients.
The chicks I loved watching as a kid grow very quickly in their first few weeks, growing from about 45 grams at birth to 4 lbs. by six weeks of age. To support this rapid growth, it’s very important for them to eat feed that is high in protein and calories to give them the necessary nutrients required for early growth. The feed can also include added amino acids, prebiotics, probiotics and yeast to support overall health, and vitamins and minerals to support bone and tissue development. Chick feed is generally presented in a soft, crumbled form, somewhat mimicking the worms and insects chicks eat in the wild.
Other common springtime babies include calves and lambs. The diets of calves and lambs are pretty similar, with the exception of lambs needing more calories and nutrient dense milk, which they get from their mother, as ewe milk is pretty high in fat. Both are born as “pre-ruminants”, meaning they have all the gastrointestinal tract parts but aren’t functional at birth, and have an esophageal groove that sends the milk directly to the glandular stomach until the rumen and the rest of the tract develops. Not much rumination takes place in calves and lambs until they begin to eat grain, grass or hay as they get older.
In nature, babies are born in the spring because the weather is mild, days get longer and resources are plentiful for mother and baby. To produce quality milk for babies to nurse, mother mammals need better food, which is provided in the form of fresh green grass in the pasture in spring and early summer. The grass is rich in nutrients and can have higher protein and digestible nutrients than more mature grass found later in the year. Most calves are born in the springtime because of this.
It sounds like I am not the only one who waits for spring every year. More sunlight, warmer temperatures and plenty of fresh food makes it a wonderful time of the year for all.