Farm Ireland

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Rushing calves on to solids is 'a false economy'

Pat Bowden with four-week-old Friesian calves in the purpose-built calf housing constructed last year
Pat Bowden with four-week-old Friesian calves in the purpose-built calf housing constructed last year

FARMERS should hold back from rushing in to once-a-day feeding for young calves to reduce labour.

That was a key message at last week's Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme event on the farm of Pat Bowden in Kilkenny.

At the event Volac's Liam Gannon said that calves consume over three litres of milk, or their entire recommended morning feed, just to stay alive. He stressed with early once-a-day feeding that young calves can fall behind swiftly if they are not able to eat a kilo of meal a day.

"You can't control the level of beestings the calf has got in most cases, but there is a lot you can do to influence the lifetime performance of that animal by what you do in the first eight weeks."

Read also: Fine margins: How this Kilkenny calf to beef farmer tripled his margins 

The aim is to double the birth weight up to around eight weeks, with a target of around 90kg for weaning.

Pat Bowden purchases his calves at around three weeks and weans them off milk at around 12 weeks.

Liam said the old consensus to get them off milk as soon as possible and on to solids was a "false sense of economy".

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"A calf under 10 weeks of age will basically convert milk at two to one, whereas you won't get the same conversion rate by putting meal in there," he said, with around two bags of milk replacer needed per calf. He said it was now recommended that calves receive six litres a day to deliver 750gm/day growth.

Liam urged farmers to properly study the notes on the milk replacer bag to avoid incorrect mixes.

"Nutritional scour is a big issue, particularly where the water temperatures are wrong," he said, adding hot water on top of milk replacer can damage the proteins.

Vet Suzanne Naughton from MSD said it was a stressful time for calves.

She urged farmers to try and batch them as closely as possible in age group, as older calves will have stronger immune systems. Respiratory diseases and scour were the most common in the early weeks. "You need a good vaccination protocol in place to try and combat any potential disease outbreaks," she said, adding Bovipast RSP covered the two viruses and pasteurella bacteria most commonly linked to respiratory disease outbreaks.

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