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Driving calf growth

Insights

Since attending a series of AHDB Dairy Calf to Calving events, Andrew Wallis and Tony White have implemented a number of changes. Farmers Guardian reports.

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A greater understanding of the young calf’s energy requirements to maintain itself and grow has led to improved heifer growth rates and better thrive at Home Farm, Sherborne, Dorset.

 

For Tony White and nephew Andrew Wallis, attending an AHDB Dairy Calf to Calving meeting proved the ‘light bulb moment’ which instigated big changes in how they manage replacements.
Tony says: “The meeting was on what milk powder was worth in MJ per day, the calf’s energy requirements to stand still and what it needs to put weight on. This was something we had never considered.”

 

Calves less than three weeks old receive nearly all their energy from milk. This means it is essential the young calf receives sufficient energy from milk feed in order to grow. Cold winter temperatures add further challenges as the calf needs more energy to keep warm. Consequently, milk feeding rates need to be raised so calves can maintain themselves and grow.

 

This is crucial to ensure calves achieve growth rates of 800-900g/day to calve in at 90 per cent of their mature weight at the most economic age of 24 months old. If growth rates are not sufficient, heifers could calve later at a cost of £2.87/head for every day over 24 months.

Challenges

After running through the milk feed calculations for their calves, Andrew says it was clear calves were not receiving enough energy and growth was being compromised.

 

“We looked back and realised we were under-feeding them.”

 

This meant the farm was experiencing higher than desirable levels of calf mortality and poor growth rates in the early milk feeding period, which was impacting on age at first calving.

 

Andrew says: “We had already put in a new calf shed with concrete panels. But it was suggested if the calves were lying against the cold concrete panels, this was lowering their body temperature in winter. So what we were feeding was not even meeting maintenance.”

Benefits

Since making the changes, Andrew and Tony have witnessed marked improvements in performance, which they hope will reduce costs.


Andrew says: “They look so much better; less ‘starey’ when coated and a lot happier. You get a lot less hollering at feeding and they just look better in general.”


Andrew’s records prove heifers are surpassing targets. One pen averaged 900g/day over 30 days, while a second pen had animals achieving 1.1kg/day which even saw the worst performing animal hitting 950g/day over 60 days.


Andrew says: “This has reduced heifer rearing costs and will continue to do so as it put heifer rearing at the forefront of our minds. It has given me a target and renewed interest. Now we have animals calving at 22-26 months. They seem to get in-calf a lot quicker. We are breeding a young herd now.


“By calving younger, we are reducing costs and hopefully improving fertility as they will be in better condition when they come back round to be served. Hopefully the longevity of heifers will be better too.”

The farm made a number of changes, including:

  • Feeding calves six litres of colostrum within the first 24 hours.
  • Only feeding high quality colostrum, identified using a refractometer.
  • Steam cleaning and resting the calf shed once a year.
  • Weighing heifers at birth, and at four and eight weeks old. A weigh band is then used up to six months of age.
  • Feeding a higher calf milk replacer at a higher rate.
  • Making small straw bales and putting them against concrete panels to prevent calves from lying against them. Bales are also put under the doors to prevent drafts.
  • Using calf jackets on newborn calves when temperatures drop below 15degC.
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