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Blarney calving system sets excellent example

Mitchell Hayes from Blarney in Co Cork calves down between 240 and 260 cows every year and his herd consists of New Zealand Friesian, Jersey, Jersey cross and some Holstein Friesian cows.

Half of the herd calves within 16 days and 80-85pc will be calved within six weeks. Springing cows are grouped according to their calving date and moved from their cubicle and loose housing onto stand-off pads approximately 10 days before calving.

Once the calf hits the ground, the navel is sprayed with iodine, the ear tagged and the birth is recorded in Mitchell's notebook. The bulk of calves are Jersey cross calves and are easy calving and quite vigorous.

After the morning milking, all new calves are collected off the stand-off pad and moved into the baby calf pen, which can house up to 15 small calves at a time. Here, the calves are bedded on dry woodchip and given their first feed of no more than two litres of colostrum by stomach tube. Iodine navel spraying is repeated for three days.

Calves that are very vigorous and obviously full from drinking from the mother will not be stomach tubed, but any calf with a question mark is fed by tube.

The second feed that evening is also by stomach tube and, again, is no more than two litres of colostrums.

On the calf's second morning, if it will suck a finger, it is moved into the milk bar for training. If the calf is not anxious to suck, it will be tried again that evening.

"I give each calf two minutes at the milk bar and if it does not drink, I won't stress it. Instead, I will leave it until later when it is hungry and quicker to drink," said the dairy farmer.

Once they are trained to a milk bar, calves are moved into new woodchip pens in batches of 10 that are kept together for the next seven days, depending on space. Sick calves are isolated from the rest and timid calves are sometimes held hack to a younger bunch to give them a chance.

From about five days old, the calves have free access to fresh water, barley straw and a muesli-type meal.

At 10 days old, all the bull calves are sold or slaughtered and the heifers are batched into larger groups. From 14 days old, the calves will be drinking five litres of milk once a day.

Last year, Mitchell fed milk replacer instead of whole milk in order to focus on his weaning practices. He also tested the herd for BVD and Johnes persistent infector (PI) animals. Having tested clear for both, he is returning to feeding whole milk this year.

The target weaning weight for calves this year is around 86kg, provided the calves are eating 1.5-2kg of meal/hd/day.

Last year, the weaning weight target was higher, at 90kg for early calves and 95kg for later calves, a strategy he used to minimise the difference between the early and later calves.

"I can use a lighter weaning weight this year as long as they are eating well and their rumen is well developed from an early age," said Mitchell.

By mid-March the first calves will be moved out to grass in sheltered paddocks in groups of 25-30.

Indo Farming