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Re-evaluating targets on farm

By Jessica Charlton, Calf & Youngstock Specialist Yesterday

There are many targets that we set on farm to assess the success of the business and calf operating system. Many targets have become outdated with the emphasis now on producing bigger, stronger heifers that we are rearing for longevity and lifetime production. Below are some thoughts on the targets that we should be re-evaluating to streamline the rearing operation further.

Colostrum

The legal minimum requirement is 2 litres of colostrum within 6 hours. However, the research clearly states that we should be aiming to give the calf its first feed of colostrum within the first hour of life as this is the time of greatest uptake of IgG with long term health benefits, compared to feeding within 6 hours. Current research indicates that the greatest colostrum quality is that from cows where the colostrum is harvested as soon as possible after calving. In the hours after calving the quality declines as milk production begins, therefore, targets should be to achieve all calves are fed at least 10% of their bodyweight in colostrum within one hour of birth either by tube of bottle fed of high quality tested colostrum, with subsequent feeds offered at 6 and 12 hours after birth.

Growth rates

Historically the target growth rates have been between 0.7 and 0.8kg/day for calves in the pre-weaning period. However, with the elevated planes of nutrition we are now feeding we should perhaps be looking at target growth rates to be from 0.9kg to 1kg per day, with weaning weight being 100kg . This would lead to heavier bulling weights and for more fertile bulling heifers if this plane of growth is continued. Also looking at feed efficiency, the FCR is greater in younger calves when more development of the internal organs happens: we should be optimising on this for lifetime production gains.

Concentrate intakes

Concentrate intakes are often forgotten or not looked at in great details during the pre-weaning period. However, it is vital that calves have access to starter from day 1; providing it is palatable and kept fresh, the intake should increase steadily and really ramp up by the time the calf is 6 weeks old. With calves on higher milk feed rates we definitely need to look at concentrate intake very closely to ensure the calves will continue to growth after the weaning period. Calves should be weaned over a three-week period with starter intake being at 2-2.5kg of starter at the point of weaning for 3 consecutive days.

General targets

Less than 2% calf mortality

Over 85% achieving successful passive transfer

Less than 10% disease incidence

Wean calves by 10 weeks

More than 95% surviving until 2nd lactation

Conclusion

Aim for colostrum to be administered within one hour of the calf being born

Target growth rates between 0.9-1kg/day

Wean over a three week period

Concentrate intake of >2kg/day at weaning


Jessica YeomansJessica Yeomans

Calf & Youngstock Specialist

m: 07990 584740

Email Jessica | Twitter

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