Cutting corners will not increase the efficiency of growing calves

This was a key message highlighted by NFU Deputy Chairman of the Dairy Council Cymru and Dairy Farmer Abby Reeder and Dr. Jessica Cook of Volac (pictured) during a practical calving webinar held by the company as part of British Calf Week (2-9). February 2022).

The targeted seven days of virtual and personal activities that took place earlier this month have been designed to mark the progress the industry has made since the launch of the GB Dairy Cell strategy in 2020. This is an initiative led by NFU and AHDBthe aim of which is to ensure that all dairy-raised calves are reared with care and for the purpose of supplying dairy or beef.

Drawing on her personal experience of raising both dairy and beef calves from a year-round herd of 200 cows, Abby stressed that while many units may not raise calves in ideal buildings, there is always room for improvement in adhering to reliable, consistent breeding practices – and do it without stinginess.

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“I recently hired a heifer who was a former opera singer and she came without any previous experience in agriculture. However, I must say that her personal contribution has already helped us change the way we raise our young now, ”Abi said.

“Just a couple of weeks at work, she approached me and showed how much we sometimes cut corners. The first thing she wanted was a board on which we could detail and share all the important cultivation protocols. She worked brilliantly and we all fell behind her, so every time on her day off or for some reason, the one who stands up for her just follows all the protocols listed. As a result, we are now much more consistent in our approach to raising calves. And the calves enjoy the consistency. ”

Abby added that her new recruit also soon asked for a few simple scales so that the data could be measured accurately and consistently. “You may think it’s a small change, but it’s all evolving and contributing to a better flow of communication. It also makes life much easier for everyone on the farm, including the calves, ”she said.

Some of the biggest gains have come from improving colostrum feeding protocols, Abby said.

“Always use a refractometer to check the quality of the colostrum you are feeding. This way, you know what you are dealing with and can feed accordingly. And if you freeze colostrum for later use, always keep the best quality – ideally in a small, recycled plastic bottle, or at least mark it as potentially worse quality if you’re really short. ”

Even if the placement of the calves is not ideal, Abby was adamant that the calves were always as warm and dry as possible for optimal growth and health.

“When calves are in a humid environment, they can easily inhale a variety of unwanted pathogens hanging in the water vapor, so keep the pens dry and clean them regularly, using lime to absorb moisture if necessary. In cold weather I also admire calf jackets and lamps. We quickly reach for our coats when the temperature outside drops, so do the same for your calves in the winter. ”

Dr. Jessica Cook, Volac’s research and development manager, also highlighted basic cold weather management techniques, such as feeding calves enough milk.

“A cold calf should distract the energy of the milk from the growth in order to keep warm and maybe even fight the disease. It is therefore important to feed enough milk in the winter months. Indeed, for calves under three weeks of age, the milk powder level should be increased by 100 g per day for every 10 ° C lowering the temperature below 20 ° C. For example, if the temperature outside is 10 ° C, feed an additional 100 g of milk powder per day. This can be achieved by increasing the feed volume, or by increasing the mixing speed, ”she said.

Dr. Cook also stressed the benefits of feeding more milk to a calf weaned at an early age; explaining that proper milk feeding improves the growth and health of calves, and program fast-growing young animals that have been previously weaned from dairy animals for better performance.

“In addition, the efficiency with which the calf turns food into growth, at the earliest stage reaches a maximum – decreases from 50% in the first weeks of life to only 10% during the first reproduction,” she said.

“Provided your colostrum management and feeding protocol is correct – and your calves have access to fresh water, roughage and leaven concentrate – we know that feeding a good calf up to 900g (minimum 750g) of calf milk substitute will allow you daily to achieve optimal cultivation goals. The maximum amount of milk (6-8 liters per day in a maximum of 3 liters of feed) should be reached by two weeks of age. Indeed, these levels of feeding are absolutely important if you want heifers with adequate body size at 24 months, ”she said.

“Calf calves at 24 months of age are undoubtedly associated with increased survival and lifelong milk production, so every breeder should strive for this goal. To effectively achieve this goal, you need to maximize growth throughout the period of breastfeeding; use a milk replacer based on whey protein concentrate (such as Imunopro®) to maintain better growth, development and health of calves; and encourage early consumption of solid starter feed to ensure good, monitor growth rate after weaning.

“We also encourage all calf caregivers to monitor performance as well – and if you always first breed your heifers at 55-60% of their mature body weight, aged 13-14 months, you are on the right track to a more sustainable dairy system. You should also question your agricultural contributions and ask suppliers to make them as sustainable as possible, ”she said. Cutting corners will not increase the efficiency of growing calves

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