Calf feeding: Why once a day is the only way
Prior to the end of quotas, less than 50% of the most-efficient farmers were feeding calves once a day; now it’s closer to 60%.
Calf rearing is one of the most labour-intensive jobs and occurs in the busiest period on most farms. Many researchers have looked at the time factor and this can range from 30 minutes up to four hours per day for 50 calves – depending on the system.
Often farmers believe that a one hour figure is appropriate to their farm. But, as the job is usually split in two, the figure is likely to be much higher.
Feeding milk once a day allows farmers more time to look after their calves, as well as making the day more flexible.
Other options – such as computerised machines – can compromise calf health, because of the large groups of mixed-aged calves in each pen.
Once-a-day (OAD) milk feeding can be utilised in single pens or in small groups; it costs nothing to implement and does not compromise calf health or performance.
OAD feeding is very cost effective. As you can see from table 1, rearing calves on ad-lib cow’s milk to save time will cost over €180/calf, with the more labour intensive twice-a-day (TAD) feeding costing €90/calf in lost milk sales.
Feeding calves milk replacer on a automatic machine, using a standard feed programme, can cost €150/calf.
Table 1: Cost of feeding cow’s milk to calves
In table 2, we outline the cost of rearing calves using Shine Once-a-Day mixed with either milk or water. For the same labour, rearing costs can be reduced by almost 66% by feeding milk replacer once a day (compared to ad-lib cow’s milk). That’s why more and more farmers are changing to once-a-day feeding systems.
Table 2: Cost of using Shine Once-a-Day (two options)
Introducing calves to once-a-day feeding
Once-a-day feeding is not about underfeeding calves. The calves receive the equivalent of 5-6L of milk in 3L of mixture and are content; providing they have ad-lib access to dry feed, straw and water at all times.
Latest research has backed this up, when once-a-day fed calves were found to experience significantly less stress, particularly at weaning, explained Dr. Christine Cummins of Bonanza Calf Nutrition.
To introduce calves to once-a-day milk feeding, Christine advises that calves must be healthy and eating ration; they should be 10-14 days old.
Calves should have access to water at all times. The calf cannot digest dry feed unless it receives fresh water; regardless of how much milk or milk replacer is offered.
Calves are creatures of habit, so milk should be fed at the same time every day and fresh dry feed should be available to the calf. Straw is the ideal fibre source, as it allows calves to consume more dry feed, she added.
Weaning should commence when calves are eating 1kg of dry feed, if in single pens, and when calves in a group are eating 1.25kg/day. Calves should be offered ad-lib ration until 12 weeks of age.
Shine Once-a-Day contains buttermilk and skim milk powder; so, the milk will form a firm curd in the calf’s stomach and takes over 14 hours to be digested. Standard calf milk will be gone in less than two hours.
For beef farmers, Shine Once-a-Day is the cheapest and most-effective way to rear bought-in calves. This is because calves eat more dry feed and their rumen develops faster; allowing weaning to occur a week or two earlier, which saves both labour and milk.