In the previous Calf Rearing feature, I discussed the theory behind once-a-day feeding using fortified milk and how this enables farmers rearing calves to establish an early weaning system through accelerated rumen development.
In this article I will describe the essential elements of this system which the team at Total Stockfeeds (Vitafarm) will be happy to assist you with on your property.
Think of calf rearing systems as a combination of three essential elements: nutrition, environment and disease control.
When these are kept in balance, we produce healthy calves. If any of these elements becomes unbalanced we will see poor growth rates, ill health and increased losses from disease.
When setting up a once-a-day fortified milk early rumen development system, these three elements are essential to get right.
In some ways we are ‘‘pushing’’ the system to obtain rapid growth and early rumen development.
It works, but so often when I assist farmers who are having problems with this system they have not paid attention to one (or more) of these elements.
The essential elements to early weaning systems:
A vaccination program tailored for your property.
Calf collection, processing and induction to minimise navel infections.
House calves in a clean, dry and well-ventilated environment.
Provide fresh, clean and on-demand water at all times.
Set up pens to ensure floor space, total shed volume and maximum pen sizes.
Provide pellets and straw from day one of life.
Individual feeders to control milk intake and prevent over-consumption.
Use quality milk replacer added (fortified) to cows’ milk.
Wean based on pellet intake, not age or size.
Ensure property vaccination program is adhered to.
Remove and manage any sick calves or those in poor condition and treat individually.
Keep calves off pasture until consuming 2 to 3kg pellets per calf per day (10 to 12 weeks old).
Ensure coccidiosis and worm control begins once calves go to pasture.
Have a system of pen decontamination/bedding management between every batch of calves.
As you can see from the list above, it is not just about adding some powder to waste milk, feeding them once a day and miraculously turning out healthy calves in five weeks.
It is a system of well designed pens, grouping calves into pens of 10 to 12 per pen, designing the pen to allow adequate space per calf and proper ventilation/shelter.
Your feeders must be correctly chosen, the calves must be monitored daily, and the milk powder carefully measured and mixed with clean fresh milk. Pellets must be provided from day one of this system as must clean fresh water.
In my experience, a bit of planning prior to the rearing system — with a pen design ensuring adequate pens are prepared and a check list to make sure every one of the 15 elements are in place — can make this system really simple and streamlined.
Do not be afraid to ask for help. This is quite challenging for even the most experienced calf rearers to get right the first time — but when you get it right, my experience with many calf rearers is the results speak for themselves.
The system makes calf rearing one of the most enjoyable and rewarding activities on the farm.
For more information, phone Mark Moylan from Total Stockfeeds on 0472 835 585.
—Dr David Colson
The Vet Group