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June 2015

Make the Most of Computerised Feeding

By Wynnstay Dairy News 4 years ago

The concept of computerised feeding is brilliant. The machine can be programmed for any type of calf, in a group or as an individual, and you can choose from many different milk powders and feed at any rate. Some even dispense 50% whole milk. Weaning is gradual and it’s almost like having a mechanical cow. 

Over a 10 year period we have seen some outstanding calves reared on this system and only a few disasters. So why the failures?

Often it’s the management which causes the system to fail. It is still necessary to have a dedicated calf rearer in charge of the system.


  1. Remember, it’s a vending machine, not a calf rearer! It has no brain and cannot make decisions. 
  2. The operator needs to understand how to calibrate the machine, as the density of powders vary from factory to factory and from one pallet to another. The operator also needs to know how to set a feed curve. 
  3. The manufacturers claim one feed station feeds 25 calves, but in practice we find smaller groups work better. 
  4. Having one big group of calves and adding baby calves to the group one after another without starting a new group leads to overuse of antibiotic and pneumonia problems. Small groups in separate areas are easier to manage and clean out regularly. 
  5. Calves need to receive colostrum for 3-5 days (where possible) before being transferred to the machine, during this time they should be kept in a single pen and trained to suck a teat. Introducing to the group pen too early causes poor intakes and stress induced illness. 
  6. Whole milk is very difficult to manage in practice, often leading to hygiene problems. 
In addition many rearers are under-dosing their calves with milk powder, owing to a key fact which has been lost in translation from German to English.

If you want to add 150g of powder into a litre (i.e made up to a litre) then you have to instruct the machine to add 175g on top of a litre.

It’s a subtle difference in translation, but makes a world of difference to growth rates. N.B. The machine always adds the prescribed amount on top of a litre of water.

Follow the chart below if you don’t want to do the maths:


Target: We are aiming to feed 900g-1000g/day (over 24hrs) to accelerated dairy heifers and 750g for slower growing calves or older bought in calves, which are starting the weaning curve.

If you have any new staff who need training on the machine, please contact one of our calf specialists who will make arrangements for a training session.

Written by Gill Dickson - Wynnstay National Calf Specialist
Follow @healthycalves

Introducing the "Lifestart" Concept

By Wynnstay Dairy News 4 years ago

Feeding baby mammals is a precise and critical process. 

The wrong food at the wrong time can result in significant health, digestive and growth problems. The calf is no different and until the rumen is functioning properly (35 – 60 days), milk is the food needed to sustain the calf.

In addition, we need to consider the frequency of feeding, the suckled calf may feed 6-10 times per day and we should also try to feed our calves little and often. A recent paper from Dr Don Socket from Madison highlighted the need for multiple milk feeds “I expect 10 years from now, the discussion won’t be if we should feed calves three times a day but if there is a benefit feeding three times a day versus more times,” he predicted. “That’s where the research is going.”

The LifeStart programme is designed to activate metabolic pathways in the young calf which will help to improve both performance and efficiency during the animals’ productive life.

This activation process requires a programme which provides an enhanced level of digestible nutrition in a safe form. LifeStart formulations have exceptionally high levels of dairy ingredients but products with lower digestibility such as soya are not used. Fats and oils are a key source of energy for the calf and the wide range of fats and oils used in LifeStart formulations are in the form of minute globules (similar to those in cows’ milk) to ensure optimum digestion and absorption.

LifeStart compliant milk replacers have to exceed an international set of standards to ensure that enhanced levels of feeding do not lead to gut disturbances or other health related issues while at the same time being formulated to support rapid, early growth and development.

These standards include factors which not only consider the growth and development of the calf but also the maturation of the rumen and the gut, both critical aspects in the development of an efficient and productive dairy cow.

The LifeStart programme is a practical and functional system based on best management practices. It is essential that all calves receive high antibody colostrum

(typically 10- 15% of body weight) within the first 4-6 hours of life. Use of a colostrometer is recommended. Feed colostrum for 3-4 days before the introduction to milk replacer.

Milk replacer should be mixed at 150g/litre and the calves started at 4 litres/day, this volume is slowly increased so that by day 20 the calf is receiving 6 litres/day. At 6 weeks start to reverse the process by slowly reducing the volume fed so that the calf is fully weaned by 8 – 10 weeks when they should be eating at least 2 kg of calf starter pellets.

Weight for age targets are important management tools in the growth and development of heifers to calve at the optimum 23-24 months of age. A Holstein heifer should be 120 kg at 12 weeks of age and we should aim for a bulling weight of 400 kg at 14 months.

Written by John Twigge - Technical Manager - Trouw Nutrition
For more information contact - dairy@wynnstay.co.uk

Calving Alert Improves Care of Cow & Calf

By Wynnstay Dairy News 4 years ago

New technology not only allows extra supervision at calving time, but also makes sure either fresh or frozen colostrum is delivered in the first two hours of life. Two herds give a very positive report on using the latest calving alert technology. 

Bill Williams at Meadow Lea Farm has 400-500 head of youngstock and 110 cows milked through a robot system at Mickle Trafford in Cheshire. The youngstock come from two sources, his own calves, plus some from his partner and son in law, Andy Walley at Cotton Abbotts Farm. In total they have around 300 animals to calve down from both farms which are the responsibility of the youngstock team: Bill, together with his other son in law Chris Thompson and Andy.

The Vel’phone calving Alert system was introduced around 18 months ago as part of a plan to improve care of the fresh cow and calf. Being on site at every calving would not only allow calving to be supervised, but also the colostrum

could be dealt with quickly. There has been an unexpected benefit, as Bill says ‘One real plus, has been mastitis monitoring. As the temperature bolus picks up a rise and fall in temperature it will identify heifers with mastitis, and these can be treated before it becomes a major problem.’

The farm is equipped with self locking yokes, so in-calf heifers are easy to catch and the temperature probes known as ‘spiders’ are inserted about two weeks before calving. The ‘spiders’ soak in a bucket of Hibiscrub disinfectant. Hygiene is very important, so spiders are washed well after use, then soaked in disinfectant before reusing. They are made from plastic, so get warmed up before inserting with lubricant gel. As cow calves, the water bag pushes the temperature probe out, and as it falls to the floor the probe sends a text to the mobile phone .There are two alarms, one for ‘possible calving’ and one for ‘imminent calving’. Whoever is on duty that night receives a text and arrives to see the cow or heifer about to calve. The job is split between three staff on a three week rota, so only one person has disturbed sleep every three weeks.

If all goes according to plan they calve soon after staff arrive at the yard. Bill says ‘the system is very reliable, we don’t use the ‘time delay ‘on the system, we just sit and wait for up to half an hour and watch, so as not to disturb the heifer, its 100% reliable. ‘We calve the heifer in the yard then put her straight into the robot, collect colostrum, and drench the calf with 4 litres. If she is slow to get up, it allows us time to thaw out a bag of frozen colostrum in our thawing machine’.

Calves are kept on colostrum for three feeds then kept in a single pen until they learn to suck a teat. When training is complete they are transferred onto one of the three Holm & Laue computerised machines, where they are fed 900g/head of milk powder/day. In the last 18 months calf health and growth rates have improved significantly.

Bill says apart from seeing the heifer calve, the three additional benefits have been,’ getting our sleep, detecting mastitis, and the speed of colostrum collection’.

It’s a similar story at Shordley Hall Farm, Hope nr Wrexham, where Richard Pilkington farms 250 dairy cows, heifers and a flock of breeding ewes. Two years ago Richard Pilkington decided to invest in Vel’phone Calving Alert technology. This saves on the time spent checking the dry cow yard, day and night.

The system works with radio waves from a central control box, and with 350 calvings per year, 7 temperature probes are sufficient to monitor every cow calving, on an all year round basis.

Richard inserts the probes a week before the predicted date and waits for a signal to be sent to his phone. A rise and fall in temperature sends a ‘48hr alert’, and when she starts pushing out the water bag, the probe sends a final ‘text alert’. Most cows calve within an hour of this final alert.

Richard sets a ‘time delay’ for night time calvings and says ‘it’s a reliable system, 99% of the time the cow is at the point of calving as I come into the shed’. Somebody is always on hand if the cow is having difficulty, and we can attend to the cow, the calf and colostrum at the same time.

Written by Gill Dickson - Wynnstay National Calf Specialist
For more information contact dairy@wynnstay.co.uk

Effective Fly Control Ensures Cattle Can Keep their Noses to the Ground

By Wynnstay Dairy News 4 years ago


The season for cattle flies can start as early as April in some areas, which is important as flies can cause significant production losses for dairy and beef cattle.

Flies are more than just a nuisance for both livestock and people causing irritation, stress and serious effects on productivity via reduced weight gain and reduction of milk yields. Flies are also responsible for the spread of significant cattle diseases such as summer mastitis, salmonella and New Forest Eye (Moraxella bovis).

The most common species of flies that affect the productivity of cattle are:

Non biting flies
House Flies (eg Musca domestica) and Face Flies (eg Musca autumnalis) – these flies do not bite, but they breed easily in manure, quickly forming large numbers which can cause great irritation and transmit diseases. Animals that are distracted by flies will graze less and hence not perform as well. Treating animals and fly breeding sites will help to minimise any potential losses associated with nuisance flies.

Biting flies 
Horse Flies (eg Tabanus sp.) and Stable Flies (eg Stomoxys calcitrans) – unlike the similar looking house flies, Stable and Horse flies deliver extremely painful bites, with both males and females feeding on blood.

Horn Flies (eg Hydrotea irritans) – these blood sucking flies also look similar to house flies, are extremely irritating and can cause production losses.

EARLY FLY CONTROL PARAMOUNT THIS YEAR 

The relatively mild winter has potentially failed to kill off over-wintering fly populations – so much so that as the weather warms up there could be an explosion in insects that both irritate ruminant livestock and transmit diseases.

Climate change is also influencing the way entomologists and animal health experts think about fly control, and preempting the threat this year to your livestock can go some way to reducing potential insect-borne disease problems later in the summer.

Early insecticide treatment of cattle can help reduce insect populations. Applying a proven insecticide early in the season will both reduce the first wave of attack from biting insects and cut next generation numbers. If you can kill flies early or even stop them feeding on your livestock, you will reduce their ability to breed.

Seeing flies or midges on or around animals are usually the main triggers for applying insecticides, but significant insect populations can have built up by then. And left untreated, an insignificant early season insect population can become a huge one in just a few weeks. The main objective is to kill as many insects as possible when the first landing parties arrive on your livestock to feed.

As well as treating cattle early, it’s also important to keep on top of the insect problem as we move through the warmer months. A mixture of different fly and midge species threaten most farms with populations peaking at different times and waves of attackers hatch out to trouble herds all season long. So in addition to applying insecticides, aim to reduce potential insect breeding sites and consider housing livestock at dawn and dusk if insects are particularly active.

Did you know?

  • It only takes 10-20 head flies to have a negative economic impact on farm.
  • The horn fly will feed on blood from cattle up to 40 times per day - this could lead to blood loss and constant irritation for the animal. 

The risk of not treating flies and external parasites on cattle and sheep:

  • Reduced milk yields of up to 20% (1)
  • Increased incidence of summer mastitis
  • Reduced calf weight gain
  • Downgraded wool quality
  • Reduced reproduction in sheep
For more information contact dairy@wynnstay.co.uk
(1 - Taylor. B.D. et al. Economic Impact of Stable flies (Diptera Muscidae) on Dairy and Beef Cattle production. J. Med. Entomol 2012, 49)