| 15.3°C Dublin


Cutting calf casualties to the minimum

Pat and Nora Flynn run a 90-cow Friesian herd on their farm at Coolmohan, Araglin, Kilworth, Co Cork.

Compact calving is a feature of the Coolmohan herd, with 60 cows calved down in the first 19 days of the calving season. Last year's performance was 73 cows calved out of 80 in just one month.

The herd has an average EBI of €117, with an average yield of 1,456ga at 4.30pc fat and 3.86pc protein. Calf mortality is generally low, at an average of two to three calves a year.

Cows are monitored by CCTV prior to and during calving, allowing early intervention if necessary. In order to reduce the risk of difficult births, cows are not fed before calving.

Immediately after birth the calf's navel is treated with alamycin spray and the animal is then tagged. It is then brought to one of the 16 individual calf pens -- known as the baby pens -- in the calf house.

Calves spend one or two days in a baby pen, during which time they are bucket-trained by Nora.

All calf pens are open barred, although a canvas cover is placed over the rear of the baby pens to provide shelter from any draughts.

All calves are bedded down on wood chips, which Pat says is a much cleaner and less labour-intensive method than using either slats or straw.

"There were too many casualties on slats, we had some calves with broken legs, and straw needs to be cleaned out every week so it's too labour-intensive," says Pat.

An articulated lorry load of wood chips this year cost €1,100-1,200. The calf shed is a high, airy unit, with extra ventilation provided by large bulk tank fans when needed.

The front of the calf pens are washed out once or twice a week to clean the standing area.

Once the calves are drinking from the bucket, they are moved into group pens with six animals in each. They are fed milk in a trough, which is piped directly from the parlour to the calf shed.

After 14-21 days the calves are moved again into pens of 12-14 calves, where trough feeding of milk continues up to 75-90 days of age, weather permitting. Hay and straw are provided ad-lib, but there is no ration feeding until the calves are at least six weeks old.

"It's a waste of time feeding ration to them any earlier because their stomachs are not developed enough for feed," says Pat.

Calves are given a beef meal mix first and then moved on to a 16pc protein bull ration. Additional water is provided at this stage. From mid-February, older calves are allowed access to a paddock during the day and moved indoors in the evening for their milk feed.

The herd has been tested and was found to be free of BVD, Johnes Disease and salmonella, although Pat last year decided to start vaccinating for salmonella on the advice of his vet.

Heifers are vaccinated as weanlings and cows are injected against leptospirosis.

Scour, one of the biggest problems with young calves, is not a big issue in Pat's Coolmohan herd.

"The cows get bread soda in their silage every 3-4 days after calving," says Pat. "It's one of many cures my father gave me."

Calves that do succumb to scour are given Synulox tablets but are kept on their milk feed.

Irish Independent