A County Cork dairy farm can feed 70 calves in 20 minutes following the introduction of the Once a Day feeding system.
John and Ann Coughlan milk a herd of 120 Holstein-Friesian cows near Buttevant, County Cork. The herd calves in a three-month block between January 15 and April 15, with the majority of calves being born in the first six weeks.
Cows are artificially inseminated for five weeks before an Angus bull is turned in to sweep up. All calves are retained, either as dairy replacements or for finishing in the beef enterprise.
The Coughlans consider calf rearing one of the most important tasks on the farm each year. The decision to introduce Shine Once a Day milk powder was taken to ensure that calf rearing was not becoming a secondary task to milking.
Calves are fed colostrum within two hours of birth. Traditionally this has been followed by transition milk twice a day and then whole milk. While this system worked well, it was very labour intensive and ensuring that consistency of milk fed to calves was challenging.
For the new regime, colostrum is still fed within two hours of birth, followed as normal by transition milk twice daily for 10 days and calves are then given Shine Once a Day. This is purchased through the Coughlan’s local Dairygold Co-Op.
The new Once a Day routine allows milking and feeding the calves to be treated as two separate tasks. Cows and calves are given John and Ann’s full attention, respectively, ensuring that animal management is top of mind at the busiest time of the year.
“If we happen to have a cow calving in the morning it’s not so bad because there isn’t the same rush to feed calves and milk the cows at the same time,” John explains.
Calf rearing success is based on attention to detail and keeping the job simple. Hygiene is crucial: teat feeders are washed after each feeding, first with a cold water rinse, followed by hot soapy water. “It’s simple, but it works,” says Ann.
Calves are grouped in up to eight according to when they were born. They will remain in these groups until weaning, reducing stress from frequent moves. Calves are weaned at 9-10 weeks old, with gradual reducing of feeding over a number of days.
Rumen development is key to
successful weaning, so the Cough-lans provide ad-lib fresh water, straw and meal from 10 days of age. Once weaned the calves are introduced to new surroundings: they are moved to a shed with access to a yard to adjust to larger spaces and the new outdoor environment.
The post-weaning diet remains consistent with ad-lib nuts and straw. Grazing is weather dependant, but typically begins in mid-May. “We find letting calves out too early can result in setbacks, especially with wet weather in April,” says John.
Calves graze by day and are housed by night for a week or two before being turned out for full time grazing around the end of May. Nuts are still offered at grass, with initial intakes dropping over a three-week period to 1kg, intake then drops further to 0.5kg for the rest of the grazing season.
The Coughlans report that calves are extremely content on Shine Once a Day and thrive well throughout their lifetime. “There is very little noise or stress in the shed. Calves are very calm and content all day long,” says John.
While the time devoted to calves on the Coughlan’s farm has not decreased, the workload associated with calf rearing has decreased.
John explains: “Rather than run-ning around lifting buckets of milk while trying to get back to the parlour as soon as we can, we can now give the calves more direct assessment, at a time that suits us better. It allows us a better balance and better care for the calves.
“The calves are definitely healthier and more able to handle stress, especially before weaning. The roaring for milk from 4pm stops; they hardly notice us coming in to check them in the evening,” Ann says.
Shine Once a Day strikes the balance between both clotting milk protein in the form of skim powder, and rapidly digested protein in the form of whey. The low-heat skim keeps the calves content as it is a slowly-digested protein.
These two elements work brilliantly to provide the calf with an instant hit of protein. When the calf has processed the whey, the skim element leaves the calves feeling content.
The highly concentrated mix of approximately 20 per cent solids means calves can take in the required amount of feed in a small volume; with clean water available to them, they can use that as required for rumen function.
Shine Once a Day is available across all Dairygold stores.