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Project name Accelerated calf rearing
Funding bodies DairyTas
Chief Investigators Lesley Irvine

This project, funded by DairyTas, will provide a comparison of accelerated calf rearing programs to determine the effectiveness of these programs within Tasmanian pasture-based systems.

It will provide Tasmanian dairy farmers with the results of accelerated calf rearing programs on calf health, growth rates, and financial cost (labour saving and feed costs).

As part of a 2017 trial at TIA’s Dairy Research Facility at Elliott, calves were divided into four different treatment groups with 20 calves in each group. In addition to access to pellets and water, the groups followed four different rearing programs:

  • A control group given four litres of milk per day;
  • An ad lib group that could drink unlimited amounts of milk via an automatic feeder;
  • A group given four litres of fortified milk per day for the first four weeks;
  • A group given four litres of fortified milk per day for the duration of the trial.

“The control group, which had access to four litres of milk per day, is very similar to the method the majority of Tasmanian dairy farmers would use to rear calves, while the ad lib approach is generally considered a more expensive method,” said Mr Mark Freeman, TIA Dairy Researcher.

The trial found that calves with unlimited access to milk performed the best, taking an average of 42 days to double their birth weight and 80 days to achieve weaning weight (90kg for crossbreeds and 100kg for Friesians).

In comparison, the control group took 56 days to double their birth weight and 90 days to reach weaning weight.

Mr Freeman said being able to wean calves 10 days quicker could potentially provide dairy farmers with significant economic benefits.

“The accelerated calf rearing method requires a larger cost input initially but we hope it will result in a more productive animal in the herd. It won’t take much extra milk production from each heifer to re-coup the additional cost of an accelerated calf rearing program,” Mr Freeman said.

Following the trial, calves will continue to be monitored for growth, reproductive performance and milk performance.

To find out more about this trial, contact Mark Freeman:

Email: Mark.Freeman@utas.edu.au
Phone: 03 6430 5988