Lesley Irvine, TIA Dairy Centre
Rearing 6000 calves each year, Joanne Leigh has learnt a lot about calf rearing. As one of the guest speakers at the Dairy On PAR calf roadshow in June, Jo was able to share a lot of useful tips with the 120 people who came along to one of the four sessions.
Joanne and her husband Jonathan established their calf rearing business, Top-Notch Calves, 14 years ago. It is located at Tirau in the Waikato region of New Zealand. They rear calves on a contract basis, from a few days of age typically through to weaning.
At Top-Notch calves, they have an average mortality rate of less than 2%, but have noticed the mortality rate can vary a considerable amount between batches of calves obtained from different farms. When they have investigated the reasons for higher mortality rates in some groups of calves, it was generally found to be due to calves not receiving adequate levels of quality colostrum. In her presentation, Jo highlighted the importance of ensuring calves receive enough quality colostrum as soon as possible after birth as a calf’s ability to absorb the immunoglobulins from colostrum decreases very quickly.
Good facilities are facilities that are simple to use and achieve their purpose. There should be good ventilation but sheds should also should be draught free at calf height. At Top-Notch calves, they sourced second-hand roofing iron for the panels between the pens, which helps minimise draughts and reduces any pen-to-pen contact of the calves. They have separate hospital pen for sick calves and also have ‘slow-drinker’ pens.
Despite rearing such large numbers of calves, Joanne made the point it is very important to ‘think individual’. “Calves are babies, if they are not hungry something is wrong”. Early identification of problems assists with achieving their low calf mortality rate.
Having the right person (or people) is critical to the success of a calf rearing system. Again, Joanne highlighted that calves are babies and the people working with them need to understand this and care for them accordingly. Calf rearing is made easier if there are simple, repeatable systems in place. The calf rearing system is reviewed each year to look for improvements that can be made. It is important to listen (and act where possible) on the suggestions made by those involved in calf rearing.
And finally, have fun as a team.
Accelerated calf rearing
Calves that are fed ad lib (as much as they want) milk doubled their birthweight in just 42 days compared to 56 days for calves fed 4 litres of milk per day. This finding was part of a research project conducted at the TIA Dairy Research Facility last season that compared three differing accelerated calf rearing programs. The ad lib calves also reached weaning weight an average of 10 days earlier than the control group who were fed 4 litres of milk. Mark Freeman, researcher with the TIA Dairy Centre, also spoke about the other two accelerated programs studied – fortified milk until weaning and fortified milk for only the first four weeks. Milk is fortified by adding milk powder to the colostrum/fresh milk from the dairy. Both of these programs also resulted in calves reaching weaning weight earlier than did the control group. The group of calves fed fortified milk until weaning took an average of 80 days to reach weaning weight (the same as the ad lib group). The calves which had their milk fortified for just the first four weeks took an average of 86 days to reach weaning weight. The control group took 90 days.
Extra or fortified milk is an additional cost to a calf rearing system, so is it worth it? The answer is yet to be determined. Research conducted prior to this project has suggested pre-weaning growth rates account for up to 25% of the variation in first lactation milk production. That is, if you have faster pre-weaning growth rates, you can get increased first lactation milk production. This increased production is thought to be as a result of ‘switching-on’ genes during the pre-weaning period. The heifers at TDRF will continue to be monitored to see if the growth rate difference achieved in the pre-weaning period is maintained and whether there is a difference in milk yields once they join the milking herd.
|Control||Fortified for 4 weeks||Ad lib||Fortified until weaning|
|Milk||4 litres||4 litres + 300 grams milk powder until 4 weeks of age, then fed the same milk as control and ad lib||As much as they wanted||4 litres + 300 grams milk powder|
|Pellets||Ad lib||Ad lib||Ad lib||Ad lib|
|Water||Ad lib||Ad lib||Ad lib||Ad lib|
|Days to double birthweight||56||50||42||48|
|Days to reach weaning weight||90||86||80||80|
1 Costs were based on the system used at TDRF. Each farm would have different costs and your farm costs should be used in any calculations done to determine the cost:benefit to your farm.
This project was funded by a DairyTas small grant.