Out of the 410 calves purchased this year on the ABP Demonstration (Demo) Farm, 160 have been weaned off milk and are now out to grass.
It is hoped that all 410 calves will be out to grass by May 22, at the latest.
Speaking to Agriland, ABP’s agri-sustainability manager, Stephen Connolly, explained that the first calves went to grass on April 21.
These were the earliest-born calves that had arrived first on the farm and had an average weight of 120kg when going to grass.
During the transition from the shed to the paddocks, calves were on 2kg of concentrates/head/day.
Their meal is an 18% protein calf-nut with a health pack, including yeast and a rumen buffer in the nut. Once settled into the grazing routine, these calves will be gradually eased back to 1kg of concentrates/head/day.
Along with the meal, calves have constant access to straw (which is topped up in a feeder) and fresh grass from their paddock.
From the shed to the field
On the ABP Demo Farm, calves spend roughly six weeks on milk replacer, which they are fed once a day.
The amount of meal each pen is eating is monitored closely and once a pen of calves is eating over 1.5kg/head/day, the weaning process begins.
The level of milk fed is gradually reduced until calves are fully weaned. Weaker calves are left on milk for a bit longer until they are strong enough to wean.
Stephen stressed: “It’s very important to grade calves. You can’t just treat them all the same, sometimes you might have a calf that had a bit of a setback and it might just need a little while longer on milk.”
Once fully weaned off milk, calves are given a few days to settle into their group pens of between 10 and 20 calves. They are then introduced to larger groups by opening the dividing gates and are given time to get used to said group.
Once settled, the calves are moved to an open shed with an adjoining yard which allows the calves to acclimatise to an electric wire after which, they are then ready for grass.
Before going to grass, the calves get their clostridial vaccine. By this stage the calf has received its pneumonia vaccine (following arrival), been de-horned, and male calves have been castrated by a veterinary professional.
Calves start grazing the paddocks nearest the yard for the first few days so that they can be rehoused if there is a heavy night’s rain forecast.
Calves will be cut back from 2kg/head/day to 1kg/head/day, gradually, and kept on 1kg of concentrates for the duration of the summer.
Calves are given access to graze slightly heavier, stemmy covers of grass.
When the calves are becoming accustomed to grazing, a high portion of the grass is not grazed. Older cattle tend to find this unpalatable also, so these paddocks are then cut and baled and the unpalatable grass in the bales is composted.
“For the first six-to-eight weeks, calves won’t graze the paddocks down fully, so what they don’t eat is cut and composted,” Stephen explained.
Calves spend the first few weeks grazing close to the farmyard and then go to silage ground or reseeded ground.
This is to ensure calves are getting access to the freshest ground and grass to help reduce the worm burden in the calves.
Dung samples from the calves will be taken before the end of May to identify if the calves need to be dosed.
10% of the calves are sampled and this generally takes place at the start of the week and early in the morning, so as to ensure a fresh dung sample is taken and it gets to the lab to be tested without delay.
A number of measures are taken on the farm to help avoid any incidents of summer scour.
In the past, the farm had calves grazing a diet of lush grass and this resulted, they believe, in summer scour in some of the calves. Since then, plenty of roughage is kept in the calves’ diet to help keep the rumen healthy.
Stephen explained: “What we have found is putting calves into heavier covers of grass and supplementing them with feeding straw for the first few weeks helps reduce the risk of summer scour.”
The straw is fed to calves in a converted Intermediate Bulk Container (IBC) tank and and can be easily moved from paddock to paddock using the pallet forks on a front loader.
“It’s surprising the amount of straw the calves eat despite having access to the fresh grass,” Stephen added.
More information is available on summer scour in calves here.
The 2021-born cattle were weighed at the end of April and had an average weight of 392kg.
The bullocks averaged 401kg and the heifers averaged 382kg.
During the month of April, these cattle had an average daily weight gain of 1.01kg/day on grass alone.
The weights were then grouped in correlation with each calf’s sire and the difference was significant.
The top-performing sires’ progeny had an average weight of 434kg and the bottom performing had an average weight of 336kg.
Using better sires on cows that will produce progeny destined for beef production is something that the Advantage Beef Programme aims to place greater emphasis on.
The yearling cattle are now finishing the second rotation and the grass situation on the farm is good, with 180 bales of silage made this year to date.
Grass growth on the farm on Friday, May 6, was 65kg/dry matter (dm)/ha and growth has picked up significantly since then.
Weather permitting, silage ground will be cut on the farm in the coming week and the aim is to secure six or seven bales/ac of high-quality feed.
An additional 8ac of the farm was sown in red clover on May 10, bringing the total area of the farm growing red clover to over 20ac.