The importance of getting calf rearing basics right

AGRITECH CALVES RI Farm
For use by Agritech on 7/12/'15. Photo O'Gorman Photography.

OVER the next number of weeks, by adopting best practice management on farm, optimal performance can be achieved, ultimately leading to having heifers that calve down at 24 months at 90 per cent of their mature body weight.

The management of these heifer calves in the first weeks and months of life will have a significant impact on both lifetime production and long-term profitability of the dairy herd. The cost of rearing a heifer to calve at 24 months is approximately €1,500, with heifer rearing representing up to 20 per cent of a dairy farm’s expenses. Therefore, the typical 100 cow herd with a 20 per cent replacement rate, is about to start a long-term investment process of approximately €30,000 over the next few weeks.

To reach such targets, replace-ment heifers must achieve a steady gain of approximately 0.75kg/day from birth. In the short-term, the aim should be to double the calf’s birthweight by weaning at 8-10 weeks of age.

In order to do so, it is essential the following key calf rearing practises are managed well on farm over the next vital few weeks:

n Provide the calf with sufficient levels of high quality, clean colostrum within the first few hours of life;

n Introduce starter concentrates from at least three days of age to kick start rumen development;

n Offer clean water ad lib to calves. Milk should be considered a feed, not a drink;

n Offer a clean long-fibre forage (straw or hay), above ground level, to increase rumen function and entice greater dry matter intake;

n Provide calves with a high quality, high dairy content milk replacer, consistently (accurately weighted and mixed, using sterile utensils);

n Facilities must be clean, well ventilated, draught free and well bedded. A calf spends approximately 80 per cent of its time lying down – provide a deep, warm, dry bed;

n Weaning calves on a weight basis, will result in having a more uniform group – only wean once calves are consistently consuming 1-1.5kg concentrate per day.

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