How once-a-day feeding significantly reduces stress for calves

Prior to the end of quotas, less than 50% of the most efficient Irish farmers were feeding calves once-a-day and now it’s close to 60%.

Calf rearing is one of the most labour intensive jobs and occurs in the busiest period on most farms.

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 a calf’s health because of the large groups of mixed-aged calves in each pen.

Once-a-day milk feeding can be fed in single pens or in small groups, costs nothing to implement and does not compromise calf health or performance.

Once-a-day feeding is very cost effective. As you can see from Table 1 (below), rearing calves on ad-lib cow’s milk to save time will cost over €180 a calf, with the more labour intensive twice-a-day feeding costing €90/calf in lost milk sales.

Feeding calves calf milk on an automatic machine, using their standard feed programmes, can cost €150 a calf. Also outlined is the cost of rearing calves using Shine Once-a-day mixed with either milk or water.

For the same labour saving, rearing costs can be reduced by almost two-thirds by feeding milk replacer once-a-day. That is why more and more farmers are changing to once-a-day.

Table 1: Cost of milk with different rearing systems

If you have a suitable viewer (application) on your PC, tablet or smart-phone, click on this link to open up a PDF of the table.

Once-a-day feeding is not about under-feeding as 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, so should be 10-14 days old. Calves should have access to water at all times as 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 a group are eating 1.25kg each a 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 saving both labour and milk.

A beef farmer feeding calves once a day will spend far less (€10-100/ calf) getting calves to 12 weeks-of-age and will have calves better able to handle forage and grass.

Further information

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