As we fast approach the onset of calving, it is important to have an organised plan in place to achieve a successful calf rearing programme.
The management of replacement heifer calves in the first weeks of life will have a significant impact on lifetime production and long-term profitability of the dairy herd they are about to join. Typical costs of rearing heifers to 24 months are estimated at €1,500/head, with heifer rearing accounting for up to 20% of a dairy farm’s expenses. Therefore, a 100-cow herd with a 20% replacement rate is about to start a long-term investment process costing approximately €30,000 over the next number of weeks.
To reach lifetime targets, replacement heifers must achieve an average weight gain of approximately 0.75 – 0.8 kg/day from birth. In the more short-term, the aim will be to double the calf’s birthweight by weaning at 8-10 weeks of age. Interruptions to performance at any point will offset such target weights being achieved.
Calf Rearing Checklist
- Provide the calf with sufficient levels of high quality, clean colostrum within the first three hours of life.
- Introduce starter concentrates from at least three days of age to encourage rumen development.
- Always offer clean water ad lib to calves. Milk is a feed, not a drink.
- Offer a clean long-fibre forage (ideally straw) to increase rumen function and entice dry matter intakes.
- Provide calves with a high quality, high dairy content milk replacer on a consistent basis (accurately weighed and mixed, using sterile utensils, mixed and fed at the correct temperature).
- Facilities need to be clean, well ventilated, draught free and well bedded. A calf spends approximately 80% of its time lying down so provide a deep, warm, dry bed.
- Ensure everyone involved in the calf rearing process has a full understanding of key procedures such as colostrum management, feeding requirements, hygiene practices, etc.
For more information on preparing for the upcoming calving period, contact your local Agritech Sales Advisor.