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Investing in future by spoiling heifers

Pat Buckley farms a 120-cow spring calving herd at Yard Farm, Drumcunnig, Abbeydorney, Co Kerry, and supplies Kerry Group.

The 60ha farm is in a single block, located around the house and is highly stocked at a rate of 2.88LU/ha.

In 2010, the calving season began on February 1 and finished on May 20.

After calving, the calf remains with the dam for 12 hours or until the next milking, explains Pat. During this time he ensures the calf gets enough colostrum.

"When the cow is taken out to be milked, she goes back into the herd and the calf is offered biestings from a bucket and teat," says Pat. The calf is moved into a calf pen with between two and five other new calves.

"I used to use single calf pens but in the last few years I've moved to keeping small calves together," explains Pat.

"I think they can get spooked more easily in a single pen and are more inclined to drink in a pen where they have company."

Once the calf has learned how to drink, which generally takes two days, it is moved into another pen when it will be fed warm biestings from a milk bar twice per day.

"I'm thinking of moving towards offering ad lib biestings in the future," Pat adds.

By the time the calf is 7-10 days old, it will be getting six litres of milk per day in two feeds. "For the last seven years I've fed homemade yoghurt that I make up in a drum with a submersible pump," he explains. "It gives me healthier calves with less scour. I've used very few Lectades in recent years."

At seven to 10 days old the calves are given calf pellets and offered barley straw in a hay bar.

"I use straw instead of hay as a fibre source for a number of reasons but it is easier to source and once you keep it fresh they are happy to tuck into it," says the farmer.

All bull calves are sold at 10 days old to a regular buyer.

The calves are first housed on slats with straw bedding on top but at 30 days old, they are moved into a woodchip-bedded shed. From this point onwards, the calves are fed a 50:50 mixture of yoghurt milk and milk replacer, as well as concentrate and straw.


"This is to reduce the amount of milk being fed and to reduce the labour involved because I cannot pump or wheel milk to this shed," says Pat. "I also find that the calves have a slightly better coat than calves that are fed on 100pc milk replacer."

From eight weeks old, milk feeding is reduced so that by 10 weeks old they are on an all-solid diet. By 12 weeks of age, the calves are eating 2kg of concentrates per day but this is reduced when they go out to grass full time.

Once they go out to grass the replacement heifers get the best grass available on the farm, including silage after-grass and any reseeded paddocks.

"Basically, I try to invest in the future of the herd by giving the replacement heifers the best of everything," says Pat.

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