Wednesday 28 September 2016

Calves thriving on grass and gaining an average of 1kg daily

Published 07/10/2015 | 02:30

All calves on the farm are fully off meal by June 1 and have gained an average of 1kg a day on grass with the January-born Friesian steers weighing an average of 290kgs
All calves on the farm are fully off meal by June 1 and have gained an average of 1kg a day on grass with the January-born Friesian steers weighing an average of 290kgs

All calves arriving on the farm are placed in quarantine for two days as unfortunately there isn't the "luxury" of knowing their immune status, explained Claire Mooney from the Teagasc Nenagh office.

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During the first day of the quarantine stint they are trained to the Volac calf feeder, with half rate milk replacer and electrolytes.

On the second day, they are vaccinated and are also tagged for the calf rearing feeder before being moved on to the calf rearing shed.

"It is a 65 day programme in the calf rearing shed with access to milk replacer, ad lib meal and straw.

"After 21 days they are giving access to grass, with the main reason for this the disease pressure and it cuts down on straw usage," she explained, with the shed located close to paddocks. "Before being given access they are vaccinated for Black Leg."

The farm's Teagasc advisor Michael Daly explained the "secret" to this method was that sheds were swiftly filled rapidly in batches of 20 for the quarantine period.

Eamon O'Connell, who attends the farm from Summerhill Veterinary Clinic in Nenagh, explained all calves were treated immediately for coccidiosis or blood scour, and vaccinated for IBR, PI3 and BRSV.

"The ideal situation is that you source your calves on farm where you know what the disease status is but if you are buying calves through a mart or they are being sourced from somebody you have to basically presume that they have come into contact with pretty much anything possible," he said.

He pointed out this year they had encountered problems with coccidiosis with bought in calves, with young stock not showing any signs of it up to three weeks of age.

Michael also routinely faecal samples individual calves and batch calves to check their worm status and coccidiosis status. He worms every four to five weeks, varying the products from white drenches and ivermectin.

The costs of the vaccination and dosing programme on the farm works out at around €30 a head.

However, Eamon stressed that a farmer can use all the vaccines he wants but they are only a "stop gap" and that the environment is key, with a well ventilated shed essential.

Growth rates

At the next stage, calves are in sheds for four to five weeks with full-time access to grass, straw as roughage and two kilos of meal before being moved on to grass. All calves are fully off meal by June 1, with the January born Friesian steers weighing on average 290kgs.

Michael is delivering 1kg a day growth at grass, around a fifth above the rates of many of the country's top farmers.

"The secret to what I'm doing is the amount of milk replacer the calf gets in their first 12 weeks they get nearly two bags of milk replacer each through the feeder. The calves were weaned after 63 days at roughly 126kg, which is nearly 26kg above the average.

"If you can get enough milk into them in the first 12 weeks you will go the whole summer without meal. They are doing about 1.2kgs a day just on grass," he said on the January born calves, with fresh grass available constantly.

"I bought my first feeder four years ago and I was so impressed with it I bought another one the year after for the other calf shed," he said of his automatic Volac calf feeder.

"When I was getting rearing calves before and mixing up milk replacer, I'd always be mad to get going in January to feed calves but usually by April you'd getting totally fed up mixing millk replacer and washing equipment.

"This machine is my best friend, it does everything you need it to do it," he says, adding it will tell you how much the calf has consumed and weans the calves in the last two weeks.

Over the winter they receive high quality silage, tested at 72pc DMD, and 2kg a day of meal up to the middle of January.

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