More than 70 dairy farmers attended a short course organised by the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) on the farm of Brian and Ian Thompson at Culmore, just outside Derry.

As well as seeing the excellent new calf rearing and heifer house, a variety of speakers covered various aspects of the rearing and management of replacements.

Successful calf rearing was a topic provoking a lively debate. Proper colostrum management of the newborn calf is a critical first step, as is control of the feed settings on the automatic calf feeder for cost effective calf rearing without compromising performance.

Ashley Fleming from Cogent spoke on pre-breeding management of heifers and the importance of having heifers settled in the house before breeding, and also vaccination for BVD, leptospirosis and IBR. He also highlighted the potential of synchronisation programmes and sexed semen in achieving greater efficiency in the replacement enterprise.

Heifers intended for breeding within the next month were ‘weighed’ using the weighband developed by the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and CAFRE.

When asked: “Would you breed this heifer?” most farmers initially thought that they were too small to AI. However the weighband  showed them to be around 400 kg at 13.5 to 14 months of age, so Brian and Ian’s heifers were well above the target weight of 350-370 kg for serving to achieve 24 month calving.

Contact your local CAFRE dairying development advisOr if you would like a weighband for use with your own stock.

By David Mackey, CAFRE Dairying Development Adviser, Magherafelt

Main picture: Ian Thompson, centre, with speakers at the short course including Edwin Black (Cogent), David Mackey (CAFRE), Ashley Fleming (Cogent) and Trevor Alcorn (CAFRE)

Pictured below: Calves in a comfortable environment at Brian and Ian Thompson’s farm