Are we exploiting the full genetic potential of our calves?

As we await the arrival of an ever superior generation of calves over the coming months, it is now worthwhile to take a closer look at early calf nutrition when planning for the busy season ahead.

Members of the Agritech team recently attended a Calf Performance Conference at the Blanca Research Facility in Spain, which featured presentations from many renowned researchers, including Professor Alex Bach.

According to Agritech’s Sales Director, John Kenny: “From the conference, it became clear to me that we are significantly restricting the genetic potential of our calves in this country with the level of milk replacer we feed to them.

“With feed efficiency running at the rate of 60% in a young calf, compared to just 7% in a pre-calving two-year-old heifer, I believe that our national dairy herd has much more to gain by taking a closer look at how we can optimise performance of the calf in later life.”

Pre-Weaning Growth

Farmers today are well informed when it comes to the area of managing and feeding adequate amounts of colostrum to the new born calf in a timely manner.

However, the benefits of maximising feed intake and growth rates from day two to weaning are far less documented in Ireland.

Taking an example of the calf’s mammary gland. When a dairy heifer calf is born, its mammary gland constitutes just 1% of its total bodyweight.

If the daily live-weight gain of this calf is inadequate up to weaning, this key organ will most likely remain at this percentage.

However, if calf performance is raised up to as near as possible to 1kg/head/day, the cells in this key gland will continuously split and multiply to the extent where the mammary gland will increase to around 2% of the calf’s bodyweight at nine to 10 weeks-of-age.

While the above example highlights the mammary gland, the benefits of accelerated growth pre-weaning are applicable to all of the key organs in the young calf’s body, including the heart, lungs, kidneys etc.

The long-term benefits of achieving a better developed calf at weaning with bigger and stronger organs are proven to deliver significant increased lifetime benefits through increased daily yields, improved disease immunity and an overall longer life.

It is also now widely accepted that the effects of increased growth pre-weaning on first lactation alone is circa +300L milk yield.

John states that that there is no such thing as compensatory growth with this approach to calf rearing.

“Farmers will only get one chance in a calf’s lifetime to secure this advantage. Once the cells in each organ stop dividing in or around the nine or 10 week stage, they grow in line with the rest of the animal’s body thereafter.”

Vitalac Calf Milk Replacers

Agritech works with leaders in calf nutrition to bring a calf milk replacer range which encourages accelerated growth and performance.

Its Vitalac Calf Milk Replacer range from Nukamel offers a well-balanced level of highly digestible fat and protein via carefully selected, high-quality ingredients – many of which are sourced directly from Irish farms.

These quality ingredients are further enhanced through the use of advanced techniques such as spray cooling technology.

John states: “The spray cooling technology used in our manufacturing process has shown to improve fat digestibility, feed intakes and milk powder solubility.”

A trial by Nukamel which compared spray cooling techniques to typical spray drying techniques over a period of 56 days, identified a significant 7.5kg extra live-weight gain in calves fed on the spray cooled product versus spray dried.

“We are delighted to confirm that our unique spray cooling technology is driving herd profitability in a significant way, further enhancing the quality of ingredients in our Vitalac Calf Milk Replacers”, concluded John.

Further information

For further calf rearing advice or to find out more about the Vitalac Calf Milk Replacer Range Click here