Farm Ireland

Monday 20 November 2017

Calves suckling 20pc of weight

The relationship between farmers and processors has hit an all-time low
The relationship between farmers and processors has hit an all-time low

Charles Chavasse

Suckler calves will suckle approximately 20pc of their bodyweight per day.

However, traditionally dairy calves have only been fed approximately 10pc of their bodyweight or around two litres twice a day.

The discrepancy arose for economic reasons, because it was believed that if calves were hungry they would start to eat concentrate creep feed at an earlier age, which is less costly than calf milk replacer.

However, this practise has been shown to have a negative impact on a calf's daily live weight gain, early calf health and the calves are less likely to meet the target weights for breeding etc.

Under perfect conditions (little or no stress or disease, low infectious pressure and housing that is neither too cold nor too hot) a 40kg calf could gain about 200g weight per day on 4l of milk per day.

However, not all calves are the average weight of 40kg and some heavier calves fed 4l of milk will not get enough to even maintain their weight.

There are also many situations in which calves need more energy, for example in colder weather (below 15°C), heat stress, disease, or after vaccination.

Under these circumstances, calves may be severely underfed.

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Animal Health Ireland now recommends a compromise of feeding 15pc of calf body weight.

This equates to 2.5-3.5l/ twice a day, from five days of age.

The calves should also be offered small quantities of fresh starter concentrate from an early age, although they will not start to eat significant amounts until three weeks of age.

It is important that they have access to fresh water at all times as this is essential for proper rumen development.

Calves can be weaned once they are eating at least 1kg of starter ration per day. Weaning should be done gradually over a week to 10 days.

Nipple vs bucket feeding

Animal Health Ireland maintains that feeding calves from a nipple drinker is more natural than bucket feeding.

Feeding calves from a nipple is more natural, takes longer and helps the calves satisfy their urge to suckle.

From a behavioural point of view, nipple drinkers are preferable to buckets. However, most calves can be fed successfully from a bucket, once trained.

The feeding method does not have a major impact on weight gain.

Irish Independent