Why once-a-day feeding is making life easier on this 130-cow dairy farm

Paul & Michael Reidy are milking 130 cows in partnership. 90 cows are calved to date and calves will be moving onto OAD feeding this week
Paul & Michael Reidy are milking 130 cows in partnership. 90 cows are calved to date and calves will be moving onto OAD feeding this week
Joe Kelleher

Joe Kelleher

A recent survey showed that 27pc of discussion group members are feeding their calves once a day (OAD) from four weeks of age and that this practice reduced the time caring for calves by 36pc. So why aren't more farmers doing it?

One of the key concerns for many farmers is that they will 'scour' the calf if calves are fed their daily milk in a single feed. However, in a recent Moorepark experiment, calves fed 15pc of their birth weight (6 litres) in milk replacer from four weeks of age, either once daily or in two equally divided feeds, did not have an increased likelihood of developing diarrhoea.

No differences in calf performance or health were observed between calves fed once or twice a day.

Michael and Paul Reidy from Patrickswell, Co Limerick have been feeding their calves OAD for four years.

Their system of calf rearing is well defined and works well for them. The new born calf's first two feeds are hot colostrum, then on day two the calves receive hot transition milk, from day three until four weeks of age they receive cold yoghurt milk, fed twice daily.

Yoghurt milk recipe

  • Add three bottles of Actimal natural yoghurt to two pints of warm milk in a flask - stand for 12 hours.
  • Add two pints to three gallons of milk
  • Keep warm 200C (thickens in three hours) for 24 hrs -- 150C overnight
  • Add three gallons to 40 gallons of warm milk and leave overnight
  • Add three gallons from 40 gallons to warm morning milk for evening feeding
  • Add three gallons from warm evening milk for morning feeding.

No need for washing and make sure milk is antibiotic free whole milk.

At four weeks, calves are gradually moved from being fed twice daily to a OAD feed. They are moved onto milk replacer a few days prior to being switched on to OAD feeding.

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This gradual transition happens over a three-day period. On day one they reduce the evening feed by one litre. On day two they add one litre to the morning feed, they then reduce the evening feed by another litre.

By day three the calves are getting five litres in the morning and no evening feed. On day four the calves are getting six litres of milk.

One thing they have noticed since moving to OAD feeding is the volume of ration the calves are consuming. The calves get their ration and hay in the evening time and they say they really notice the ration disappearing three or four days into the OAD regime.

The Reidys feel the busiest times of the day is between 7.30am and 10am and again in the evening between 3.30pm and 6.30pm, so any job that can be moved to the slightly quieter period in the middle of the day really helps from a labour point of view.

On this farm, cows are milked first thing in the morning and any calves younger than four weeks of age are fed immediately after milking.

Then it is breakfast time, after which time the older calves will be fed their sole feed of milk replacer for the day. The Reidys have set themselves a target of being finished in the yard for 6.30pm every evening and only absolutely necessary jobs (such as calving) are carried out after this time.

I mentioned earlier that calves are fed yoghurt milk for the first four weeks of life.

Mike has being using the same 40-gallon blue barrels to store his yoghurt milk for the past 20 years and he says that he now doesn't have to add any starter culture, as it is embedded in the walls of the blue barrels, even though they are cleaned and disinfected regularly.

For those looking to feed yoghurt milk, please refer to recipe on this page. Once a day feeding of calves is helping to shorten the working day for the Reidys and many other farmers throughout the country. Could it make your life easier?

Joe Kelleher is a Teagasc advisor based in Newcastlewest, Co Limerick.

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