The focus on most dairy farms is now shifting towards preparing for the 2023 calving season. The management of calves in the first weeks of their life will have a significant impact on lifetime production, and with replacement heifer calves it influences the long-term profitability of the dairy herd.
Average costs of rearing a heifer calf to 24 months is estimated to be €1,553/head. Therefore, a 100-cow herd with a 20% replacement rate, is preparing to start a long-term investment process of €31,000 over the next number of weeks.
Selecting The Correct Milk Replacer
Teagasc research has shown that calves will reach similar weight gains on milk replacer as they would being fed whole milk. However, this is provided that the milk replacer is formulated correctly, from good quality milk protein sources and that all the feeding instructions are followed. Many questions centre around the percentage of protein on the label of a bag of milk replacer, which is important, but more emphasis needs to be placed on the origin of the protein sources.
As we are trying to replicate whole milk, as much of the protein as possible should be coming from a milk/dairy-based source relative to vegetable or plant-based sources of protein. Dairy sources are more digestible for young calves and result in greater performance. Both Vitalac Red and Blue Calf Milk Replacers contain a 90-95% dairy content.
Plant-based protein sources are cheaper alternatives and where inclusions are high, similar levels of performance to whole milk should not be expected in the early weeks of life. Another often unspoken factor in overall digestibility of a milk replacer is the quality of the raw materials used and the manufacturing process. Low heat-treated milk powders will have natural immunoglobulin content available in the product and its proteins will have not been denatured or affected.
The percentage of solids in whole milk is about 12.5% hence it is the most common feeding rate of milk replacer on farm. This equates to 125g of milk replacer in 875ml of water to make up 1L of feed. Fed at 6L, the calf will be consuming 750g of milk replacer daily. The first six months of life is crucial, in just 8% of its lifetime the calf will reach 25% of its mature weight, highlighting the importance of ensuring optimal nutrition at this early stage.
For more advice on calf rearing or calf milk replacer, contact your local Agritech Sales Advisor.