REARING calves is a time and labour-consuming activity and puts significant pressure on farmers for months every year. Once-a-day feeding could be the solution for some, according to Teagasc’s John Donworth.
A Moorepark labour study showed that farmers spend anything from 62 minutes to three hours a day attending to calves.
The time spent is longer at high calf numbers. For example, farmers who spent three hours had a quota size of 1,455,000 litres (320,132ga). The more calves involved, the greater the demand on labour.
In 2002, as part of the same on-farm labour study, Moorepark researchers had a look at different methods of feeding calves.
Four systems were looked at: automatic feeding, once-a-day feeding with artificial teats, twice-a-day feeding with artificial teats and twice-a-day trough feeding.
Three of the four batches of calves were virtually the same weight at day 84. The calves on the twice-a-day trough feeding system had lower daily weight gains compared to the other systems.
This proved the point that calves who suck milk use their allocation better than calves that are trough fed. “Trough feeding is quick and there is no hanging around, but compared to their sucking cousins, they are losing ground when it comes to a weight gain,” says Mr Donworth.
“I would have expected the calves on the ad-lib system to have done better. However, they were weaned at 51 days and perhaps were slow to take ration. “This interfered with daily gain and it is one of the problems with automatic feeders,” he concludes.
The secret of once-a-day feeding is to get the calves onto ration from an early age. This leads to much quicker rumen development and calves can be weaned when they are eating 1kg of ration, usually by around day 45.
The major advantage of oncea- day feeding is that nutritional scours are much reduced – so no sick calves. “If you are under pressure rearing calves, give once-a-day a try. It is a system that is working very well on a number of farms,” highlights Mr Donworth.