Calf rearing at Tre Abbot
Now to start off I think I should admit I'm not an expert calf rearer. We run a simple system that suits our facilities and circumstances. There are many ways to rear calves and ultimately if you're happy with your calves and eventual heifers, then you're doing something right!
What I would say, however, is that I've seen calf rearing go wrong and have had to learn quickly which things can have the biggest positive effect on stock-person and animal.
With this in mind, here are my ground rules for calving in order of importance:
1) Colostrum: Every heifer calf is stomach tubed with 4 litres of colostrum within 6 hours of birth. Bulls with 2.5 litres. This is singly the most important thing you can do to improve calf health and mortality rates. Some may prefer to bottle feed, we stomach tube to keep the protocol easy and consistent for staff.
2) Cleanliness: Calves should always have clean bedding, clean forage to pick at, and if fed once a day, clean water to drink. This seems obvious, but fulfilling these requirements first requires good facilities. In the picture above you can see we use our silage clamp to house the calves. Straw bales are used to divide pens, encouraging calves to eat the clean straw walls, instead of soiled bedding. This space also provides good drainage and ease of access for bedding and feeding. In the past I've wasted a lot of time and energy trying to keep substandard pens clean.
3) Static groups: Calves should be grouped with similar aged animals, and not moved from their starting pen. It may be tempting to identify a "slow drinker" early on, and move it to a different group. But in doing so you run a risk. If that calf is burdened by something contagious, like scours or pneumonia, then you can quickly end up transferring this problem to a new group. We prefer to persevere with "slow" calves, and invariably they will eventually catch up.
Their are many other rules I could add to this list, but these are the essentials. My goal is to turn a fragile, milk dependant calf, into a cheap to keep weanling capable of growing well on grass. With this in mind here is a description of our rearing system:
Ad-lib concentrates with a coccidiostat offered throughout.
Day 0: 4L of colostrum
Day 1-10: 2.5L twice a day of whole milk
Day 11-Weaning*: 2.5L once a day, 500g CMR
*Calves can be weaned at 65Kg for a Friesian, but should be kept on ad-lib concentrates and straw until 85Kg.
Start weighing calves from 6 weeks old, if you can weigh a sample once a week it will have the added bonus of encouraging staff, as they can quantify their progress and see that "the end is in sight".
Weighing this week has shown calves are growing at 1Kg/day, with the eldest group consuming 1.5Kg/day of concentrates.
Every herd will have its own challenges and health status. But I'm a great believer that keeping things simple and repeatable will give consistent results!