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Sunday 21 October 2018

Why weight is key when weaning replacement heifers

Photo at feeding time, with the local designed/manufactured 40 outlet feeder on Lester Ryans farm Dunbell Co Kilkenny. Feeding 32 calves 18 weeks old out on grass. Photo Roger Jones.
Photo at feeding time, with the local designed/manufactured 40 outlet feeder on Lester Ryans farm Dunbell Co Kilkenny. Feeding 32 calves 18 weeks old out on grass. Photo Roger Jones.
FarmIreland Team

FarmIreland Team

Replacement heifer calves weaned at a heavier weight tend to maintain this advantage, according to new Teagasc research.

This is the conclusion of Emer Kennedy at Teagasc Moorepark who carried out a trial (see Table below) with 48 mixed-breed replacement heifer calves in 2014.

Heifers were fed up to six litres of milk per day, ad lib meals, water and hay while indoors.

Heifers were turned out to grass at five weeks of age and were weaned gradually over a week at different weights.

Previous research shows that heavier replacement heifers are more likely to become pregnant early in the breeding season and produce more milk over their first three lactations.

This research shows one way to achieve such heavier weights for breeding.

According to Emer: “Heifers weaned at 100kg maintained at least a 15kg liveweight advantage throughout the first summer at grass.

This weight gap was still there when they were bred the following spring”.

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Calf health tips

Mid March to early April is the highest risk time for calf health problems. Numbers of young calves on the farm are usually at peak, putting facilities and work time under pressure.

According to Teagasc, now is a good time to review management and hygiene around calf rearing on your farm.

  • Make sure calves have at least 1.8m2 floor area and 10m3 of air space per head. Measure if you are not sure. Having correct space per calf reduces disease risk. Maintain clean bedding.
  • Avoid adding extra calves to settled pens if short on space. Provide some extra area (e.g., hutches, new shed area) or better still get some early-born calves to grass.
  • As calving slows down, do not mix younger and older calves in the same space. Pens must be cleaned and disinfected and allowed to dry before introducing a second crop of calves.
  • Keep registrations up to date and move out calves that are to be sold as soon as possible.
  • Are later-born calves getting enough colostrum? Doublecheck that standards are being met as well as at the start of calving. Clean and disinfect dump buckets, calffeeding bottles and other equipment; these tend to accumulate dirt over the busy period. calving pens become a major source for cryptosporidium scour infection for newborn calves. Clean and disinfect, or move to a new calving area. Sick calves mean more work, more stress, poorer welfare and lower lifetime performance. A few checks in mid March can make a big difference to the health of the calf crop.

File photo
File photo

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