Good calf rearing is at the heart of every successful dairy farm

IN FOCUS: Alistair Thompson milks 500 cows across two sites at Beaverlodge Farm, near Artigarvan in North Co Tyrone. Calving all the year round, his cows are currently averaging 7,500 litres at 4.25 per cent butterfat and 3.35 per cent protein. Exclusive use is made of the RMS Breeding programme, provided by Genus.

“This means that all of the cows are bred with AI bulls,” Thompson explained. “Our policy has been to use easy calving black and white sires, in order to get the replacement heifers we need, and then to use British Blue semen on the rest of the cows.

“There is a strong demand for beef bed calves of this type, with the result that most of them are sold privately. Again we opt for easy calving Blue sires. Given that we are calving down almost 50 calves per week, the cows must be able to give birth without assistance.”

A rigorous management policy has been put in place at Beaverlodge to ensure that calves get the best possible start.

Thompson added: “Every calf gets up to three litres of colostrum in the hours directly after birth. They are then teat fed twice daily, using whole milk, until they are five days old. At that stage all the heifer calves are placed on a neighbour’s farm and contract reared up to 24 months of age, when they will re-join the milking group on the home farm.

“The Blue calves are taken through to weaning in a new calf rearing unit on the home farm.”

“My main challenge is to add value to my calves by getting them off to a really good start. I use a an automatic calf feeder and a combination of whole milk and a skim-based milk replacer, ProviMilk Professional, which is ideally suited to my system. This means that I can switch between whole milk and Professional when needed.”

Professional is designed to minimise digestive upsets and it contains NuStart so calves are well prepared for weaning and moving on to all solid feed. “I need a consistent approach and good nutrition to produce strong healthy calves for my customers. Ideally I want to see them double in weight from birth to eight weeks,” explained Thompson.

On entering the new rearing unit calves are grouped in batches of 20 in straw-bedded pens. They are fed 2.2 litres every 12 hours, moving to three litres of Professional as they get that little bit older. “We also give an 18 per cent coarse mix meal from day two,” Thompson further added.

Thompson fully appreciates the impact on his business of meeting the performance targets set for the calves. “He realises that getting the calves off to the best possible start has a positive effect on his overall business,” explained Provimi’s Ross Smyth.

“There’s no doubt that good husbandry is the cornerstone for good calf rearing. Coupling this with a quality feeding programme consolidates their efforts and helps to guarantee that their targets are met.”

Pictured Tyrone dairy farmer Alistair Thompson in his new calf rearing unit

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