Herd expansion has necessitated turning to sexed semen with special attention to the rearing of replacement calves to ensure they reach bulling weight for two-year calving.
Michael Scott is the first to admit that, as a family, they do not always have the most enviable work-life balance. That is because, as he says, they are always trying to do the best job they can, and that can take just that little bit longer.
Daltonhook Farm, Lockerbie, is predominately a family run farm with Tony, Joanne, their sons Michael and Lee – and Michael’s girlfriend Alice – all involved, and the unit operates with just one extra worker, Simon, coming in five days a week.
At present the farm has a milking herd of 270 and with heifers calving at 22-24 months, and the benefits of a recently-built calf house, it is no surprise youngstock are a real focus.
“We aim to build the herd by breeding our own replacements,” declares Michael, “and the numbers of milkers are now starting to climb. Two and- a-half years ago we started using sexed semen and we are quite selective on the sires used.
We want a stronger cow, not an extreme ‘milk machine’ – in essence one that is going to last and also give good butterfats and protein.
“Our contract with Arla now weighs payments for constituents, and that has to be fed and bred for.
We are now getting the benefit of those heifers’ calves. We have recently started using sexed semen on the best second calvers, hopefully we’ll have as much success with them,” he explains.
Attention to detail is equally apparent with the youngstock. With calving cameras linked to the main farmhouse and a mobile app for Michael and Alice, the family attend about 95% of calvings. “Dad has developed a sixth sense,” says Michael.
“He knows instinctively when a cow is about to calve and wakes up in time, even if it is two o’clock in the morning.”
Cows give birth in a separate, individual calving box, with clean bedding for every calving. Left with their mothers for half an hour, calves are then removed to individual pens while cows are milked and their colostrum tested with a colostrometer. If the quality is good enough the calf will be fed twice, with at least 10% of its bodyweight, ideally within six hours.
“I like to feed them,” says Michael, “but if they can’t or won’t feed I will tube them as getting enough colostrum is so important.”
Surplus good quality colostrum is labelled and frozen with the best reserved for feeding any black-and-white heifer calves that need it.
Following mother’s milk for five days, calves then move on to powdered milk in a bucket for up to 10 days – during which time a calf starter pellet is also available, and then calves enter the purpose built youngstock shed.
The purpose built shed features polystyrene insulation roof panels to help regulate temperature, one solid side for protection against the prevailing wind, fans to remove stale air and a soakaway floor to remove moisture from the bedding.
One pen is for young calves on the automatic calf feeder which allows rationing according to a given feeding curve, and which gradually reduces the amount to encourage solid feed intake and rumen development.
“I like to be really good to the young calves,” says Michael.
“This is when their FCR is at its best and I give them seven litres/day at 135g/litre to weaning at about 70 days using a 16% oil, 26% protein milk replacer.
I give them a higher concentration during winter at 145g/litre as it takes more energy in winter to keep warm. Never be shy of giving your calves the best, they will always pay you back.”
Arol Hyslop, of Harbro, supplies Buttercup powder which contains yeast, and also starter pellets.
Calves are fed ad lib, plus straw, with the 4mm pellet which contains coarsely ground cereals that are more slowly fermented in the rumen and stimulate the muscles to develop. With all the vitamins and minerals they need, it also contains a yeast supplement, Yea-Sacc, to promote fibre digestion.
“Yeast removes oxygen from the rumen and stabilises pH levels,” explains Mr Hyslop.
“This increases the rate of forage breakdown. It also provides a ready energy source for the rumen bugs which again helps rumen development and, in turn, helps calves to thrive.”
Since building the youngstock shed and installing the automatic feeder, there has been a definite lowering of calf mortality. “Once calves are up and going in the calf shed we have hardly ever lost one,” says Michael.
“Calves do really well and there’s a real shine on their coats. We aim to wean at about 70 days but if I don’t think they are doing well enough I will put them back 10 days.”
All calves born on farm are reared, with bull calves fattened on a barley based diet plus haylage and sold to ABP.
“I have one part of the youngstock shed which I use just for bull calves,” says Michael.
“It takes 10 calves which are fed manually and this is where I use the milk from any cows that have been treated with antibiotic. “Free rearing for 10 bull calves is not a massive saving but it is just another small thing that makes a difference to the big picture,” he claims.