Cases of nutritional scour in calves are rare at a Randalstown dairy farm since a new feeding system was introduced.

Father and son Desmond and Philip McKee, who milk 170 cows at 77 Ahoghill Road, Co. Antrim, started feeding Transformula and Shine Once-a-Day after reading of the successes of others who had used the products.

Joe Murphy, of manufacturer Bonanza Calf Nutrition, provided them with a simple feed plan.

It has since consistently resulted in healthy, well-grown heifers that are now joining the herd and delivering that excellence in the milking parlour.

Joe describes the approach the McKees have taken as the ideal feed system.

“Growth is a measure of health and, importantly, development,” he said.

“Calves must transition from birth to having a fully functioning digestive system and then weaning at which point they need a well-developed rumen and microbiome that can utilise dry feed effectively and eliminate weaning checks and health issues later on.”

Transition milk replacer

Transformula, the only transition milk replacer on the market, can help calves achieve that as it helps their digestive system to develop. Recent trials have shown feeding transition milk to young calves vastly improves their digestive system’s ability to digest milk.

Those benefits follow through by keeping calves healthy, thriving and, importantly, eating dry feed from an early age.

“Dry feed is key to rumen and small intestine development and requires a gradual increase in intakes over many weeks,’’ Joe said.

Shine Once-a-Day is also part of the McKees’ feeding system. With its low heat skim milk formula, the calf milk replacer has been shown to improve rumen development by over 50%.

“This is why the Shine Once-a-Day formula is used to rear over 30,000 calves every year,’’ Joe said.

He cautions against over-feeding milk or fat to calves, especially after four weeks of age.

“Although this can result in more growth, that growth actually impacts negatively on the development of the calf,’’ he advises.

“Some feed companies are fixated on growth rates but they are only important when they are a measure of development. When they become a target they have a negative effect on calf health, labour and costs.’’

Randalstown dairy farm

The McKees feed calves 10% of their bodyweight in colostrum as soon as possible after birth. Twenty four hours later Transformula is introduced.

Calves are fed twice/day until they are over four weeks old, starting at 600g of Transformula – fed in two equal feeds for ten days.

Shine Once-a-Day formula is then introduced, still fed twice daily, and with intakes gradually increasing to 800g of powder a day over five days; this volume is fed until calves are consuming 1.75kg of Thompsons coarse calf feed, offered ad lib from day three.

Once this level of dry feed intake is achieved, calves are gradually weaned over 10 days.

Philip mixes all calf milk replacer at 20% solids and provides a constant supply of clean straw and fresh water.

Since implementing the system, he said it is rare for a calf to get nutritional scour. “I’ve noticed that calves are healthier,’’ he said.

“Better calf health together with Thompsons coarse calf have helped increase calf dry matter intake which increases daily liveweight gain.’’

Since introducing this feeding system, Philip said calves thrive pre-weaning – but he particularly notices that effect post-weaning.

“It allows for more time to look after calves to prevent health issues arising and gives more flexibility in the day,’’ he said.

Philip is delighted with the higher dry feed intakes he is achieving with the once-a-day milk powder system and Thompsons calf feed.

“I can’t believe I was ever apprehensive to attempt the system,’’ he said.

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