How to maximize calf performance and save time next spring

Heifer calves at a north Cork dairy farm are achieving post-weaning growth weights averaging 1.5kg/day since they were introduced to a milk replacer specifically formulated to be fed once a day.

Pat Caroll keeps all his heifer calves and sells excess calves as in-calf heifers. He had been feeding calves twice a day but needed a feeding solution that would reduce labour without compromising calf health.

No stranger to technology, Pat’s 70 cows are milked through one robot and are zero-grazed grass for most of the year.

This lead him to initially invest in an automatic calf feeder, introducing heifer calves to this within a week of birth, but this proved to be a backward step for him.

There were issues with scouring, leading to calf mortalities. “Bloat was an awful issue,’’ Pat recalled.

It was also costing him €100 more per heifer calf during the milk feeding period than he had spent when he was feeding twice a day.

Offering a solution

Shine Once-a-day milk replacer offered a solution. With support from Dr. Christine Cummins of Bonanza Calf Nutrition, he realised it was possible to mix the powder through his own milk and feed it to calves just once a day.

Purchasing the powder through Kellihers Feed and Agri Supplies Ltd in Tralee, Kerry, Pat set out to try his new feeding regime, keeping in touch with John Lynch of Kellihers to give them feedback on the product.

“Pat started his calves the same as always by feeding them 4L of colostrum as soon as they were born followed by transition milk twice daily,’’ said Christine.

Calves were fed whole milk with a half rate of powder before being converted to once-a-day feeding at two weeks-of-age.

On the once-a-day system the mix per three calves was 10L of milk plus 600g of powder.

“Calves began to thrive on this system, they just took to it with no complaining for another feed, no scours and no bloat; they were extremely content on the once-a-day regime,’’ said Pat.

And so it was of no surprise to John when he was told about how content the calves were on the system, stating: “That is one comment everyone makes about Shine Once-a-day – how quiet their calves are when they go onto it.”

Weaning at eight weeks, calves are consuming up to 2kg of concentrates and 3kg once they are fully weaned.

Thereafter, they remain housed on a diet of concentrates and straw for approximately two to three weeks before they are transitioned to grazed grass.

“Rather than setbacks that we had seen previously, calves thrived from the start and weight gains after weaning now just excel; we are seeing 1.5kg/day,’’ said Pat. “I couldn’t get that when calves were fed on the feeder.’’

Heifers achieve their bulling targets and are physically ready to calve down at 20 months or earlier. “If anything, they are too good.

A foolproof system

“The system is so simple and it is foolproof. It has been well worth the venture with less calf issues, lower costs and better heifers,’’ said Pat.

According to Christine, Pat’s calf-rearing costs are now about €20-25/calf along with his own milk. By using a low heat, skim-based once-a-day powder with cow’s milk, a firm curd is formed in the calf’s stomach and it is digested slowly throughout the day.

Pat Carroll and John Lynch

This curd contains all the casein proteins, fat and vitamins found in the feed and can take 14 hours to be digested. In general, the extra weight gain from the Shine Once-a-day system is down to having more time to look after calves and better nutrition.

Calves consume less liquid with their milk feed so they don’t require the energy to process and excrete this extra liquid – so more energy for growth or fighting infections.

Provided calves have access to clean water and fibre, the reduction in liquid intake will also allow calves to eat more dry feed.

Irish, UK and French trials on once-a-day milk feeding have found a 15% increase in dry feed intake and nearly a 60% increase in rumen development, allowing calves to make more use of feed after weaning.

Christine pointed out that, if using the system Pat has adopted and warm water is required to heat the milk, add an additional 250g of powder for every litre of warm water added.

Pat’s calves are getting more than 600g of milk solids per day so are well fed, but having clean water, meal and straw is vital for rumen development.

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