Maximising calf efficiencies on a 130-cow dairy farm in Co. Laois

Martin Bennett from Ratheniska, Co. Laois, is milking 130 dairy cows.

“I’m farming here with my parents Aileen and Michael. We operate a dairy system with calf to beef as well, so we finish everything that we have. We hope to be milking 130 cows this year,” said Martin.

“Last year, we got over 490kg of milk solids, 3.6% protein and 4.2% fat. We have leased land aswell. The weanlings, dry stock and calves are all kept on the out farm. The home block is just for the dairy cows.”

Calving is now well underway on Martin’s farm.

“I started calving on January 28 this year and we hope to finish by the first week of April. Calving has been going very well so far. We’ve dropped a few beef breeds from AI already.

“In terms of breeding, we tend to use an Angus bull after AI has been completed,” Martin stated.

Calf nutrition and management

The Bennetts place a major focus on proper calf nutrition and management.

“In terms of calf nutrition, we keep colostrum stored on the farm. As soon as the cows calve down, we give the calves 3L of colostrum.

“We generally would leave the calves with the cow for two to three hours. After this, the calves receive transition milk for up to two weeks, where they are then put on the automatic calf feeder where they receive GAIN Easi Mix Calf Milk Replacer,” said Martin.

GAIN Easi Mix Calf Milk Replacer, which is high in protein at 25%, containing key ingredients like Digest VO and BioMos, helps against coccidiosis and cryptosporidium. Gardion is in there too which helps support immunity.

“We’ve been using GAIN Easi Mix on the farm for six years. A few years ago, I was just mixing it in a bucket and we would then have put the calves on a once-a-day (OAD) system after three weeks; but now that we have the automatic calf feeder, they’re on it from two weeks-of-age.

“I find that the calves perform very well off GAIN Easi Mix. They wean off with a heavier weight, consistently over 95kg. I find it a very consistent product and very trustworthy. The calves don’t fluctuate from batch to batch; they’re all very even.

“I find that the calves are healthier using GAIN Easi Mix. I trust the product; if it’s not broke, don’t fix it – so I keep them on GAIN Easi Mix. They’ve a nice shine on their coats.

“I don’t plan on changing from GAIN Easi Mix anytime soon. Even as a catch up product for some of the calves that are born later, I find that when they are on GAIN Easi Mix milk replacer, they catch up to the earlier calves much quicker,” Martin commented.

In addition to using GAIN Easi Mix, Martin also uses GAIN Goldgrain and GAIN Wean ‘N’ Build. “As soon as the calves move onto the automatic calf feeder, we put them on GAIN Goldgrain, with ad-lib access,” Martin stated.

They are on GAIN Goldgrain until they are weaned off the feeder. When we wean the calves they are put on GAIN Wean ‘N’ Build and that’s when they go out to grass as well.

“By the time the calves are weaned they are receive 1kg of GAIN Goldgrain and when they are let to grass on GAIN Wean ‘N’ Build they will receive 1.5kg/head.”

Martin finds that by using the complete range of GAIN products, the results can be seen in the quality of calves that are produced.

“I find that by using the complete GAIN product range, they complement each other very well. The calves come in at spring very healthy and consistent across the group,” said Martin.

Calf health

In terms of calf health on the farm, Martin implements a robust herd health plan.

“When the calves are let to grass, they are all vaccinated for blackleg and again a month later. Every four to six weeks we dose them using either a drench or a pour-on,” according to Martin.

Value for money

“One of the recent GAIN offers I availed of was when I bought the automatic calf feeder. I will get €500 worth of free calf feed each year over the next four years, so a total saving of €2,000 which is a real help!”

Technical support

Ross King is Martin’s GAIN business manager on the farm. Martin feels that the service that Ross offers is top class.

“Ross King is our GAIN business manager on the farm. We have a great relationship with Ross. He provides key insights and advice that help us to make decisions on the farm.

“I find the support from GAIN very helpful and useful. It’s nice to know that there’s someone there if needed. They may have that extra thought that you might not have come across that may prove to be very useful,” Martin commented.

In terms of challenges in 2019, Martin found the time spent milking to be one of the biggest.

“The biggest challenge from 2019 was probably the running of the farm, in terms of our milking system. We are currently building a new milking parlour. There would have been a lot of time spent in the older parlour until the new one is complete,” said Martin.

Dairy heifer rearing programme

The GAIN Dairy Heifer Rearing Programme is designed to give practical advice to farmers on the most efficient means of achieving optimal performance from your dairy heifers.

This programme is specifically designed to build the calf’s immune system right from their first day of life and help protect the calf until it has a much better developed immune system.

The programme is divided into a number of key milestones in the calf’s journey, focusing on nutrition, health and husbandry.

“The Dairy Heifer Rearing Programme is a very useful tool to have on the farm. It contains a lot of practical advice that is easy to understand and apply to our farm,” Martin stated.

For more information on any of the GAIN products, service or programmes, contact your local GAIN business manager, Glanbia branch, or visit: