Producers are advised not to be tempted to cut corners in calf nutrition to save costs.
“The consequences of this can be long lasting,” says Cargill’s calf and heifer specialist Bianca Theeruth.
“Maintaining target growth rates in calves and youngstock is like achieving high interest rates – it is the herd investment,” says Ms Theeruth. “I appreciate, with volatile and falling milk prices, why producers might look to shave costs from the milk powder of creep feed bill and use a cheaper option but this will soon be reflected in growth rates.”
Less expensive and lower-spec calf milk replacers or creep feeds can look appealing for producers contemplating their cash flow, but it is often a false economy. “The danger here is it is just short-term gain. At the end of the month, the balance sheet may look slightly better, but remember this is a long-term investment and there will be a price to pay in the longer term. Lower growth rates can affect age at calving and this has been shown to impact on lifetime productivity.”
Increasing the age at first calving from 24 to 28 months can cost about £160 per heifer in feed costs alone and a recent Belgian study showed animals which calved at 24.6 months had 3.85 lactations compared with three lactations for those calving at 27.9 months, and 34 more productive days during their life than the older calving heifers.
“While the natural reaction to any squeeze on income is to try to reduce costs, the money spent on youngstock is vital and an important financial investment – not a luxury.”