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Dengrove Farm Calf-Rearing Focus ‘We Aim to Rear 1000 Calves by 2020’

Dengrove Farm Calf-Rearing Focus ‘We Aim to Rear 1000 Calves by 2020’
By Millie Hendy, Calf & Youngstock Specialist 6 months ago

Those who have worked with me know my opinion regarding beef and dairy calves - a calf is a calf! Whether beef or dairy, it should be reared to the highest standard, and the first 3 months is when they are most feed-efficient, therefore enhancing higher daily live weight gains. Nutrition is not the only area we should focus on, we also have to consider health and housing in order to maximise calf performance.

For dairy farmers, beef calves can often be second best, and often, understandably so! After all - heifer calves mean future milk in the tank. And keeping all of your beef calves means considering: reduction in shed space for heifers, poor ventilation, the use of dump milk or cost and practicality of using milk replacer! Not to mention the dreaded TB.

However, in the last few years, we have increasingly seen farmers investing in dairy x beef calves. As a result of these calves being well-fed, calf rearers are seeing healthy, profitable calves, finishing well for meat production.

Dengrove Farm

Messrs Isgar is a partnership of two sons Dom, Stephen and their fathers, located near Shaftesbury. Dengrove Farm consists of 270 acres, 200 acres of arable and 70 acres of grassland. 850 calves are reared per year, with 800 reared and sold as weaned calves around 5 months old, and the remaining 50 turned out to graze, then sold at stores at 16 months old.

For dairy farmers, beef calves can often be second best, and often, understandably so!

Sourcing the correct calf is vital when rearing calves, a task that Dom Isgar knows too well. Hereford and Angus calves are sourced from local markets via a calf dealer and others direct from the farm. It is not difficult to see why Herefords and Angus are the breeds of choice for Dengrove Farm. They have a quality carcase, desirable, docile nature and potential for market premiums. Being a native breed also allows them to utilise the grassland they have available on the farm.

As with all calf rearers, they require a calf that’s had adequate colostrum, is disease-free and is roughly 45/50 kg at 2/3 weeks.

With the stress of the markets, haulage and sourcing from various farms there is a higher risk for respiratory disease. It is vital that there are protocols set for when the calves arrive at Dengrove Farm. No matter what time the calf arrives on-farm, it is always offered a milk feed a few hours after arrival, whether this is mid-day or midnight. Also, within these protocols are vaccinations, the calves receive Rispoval ® + PI3 intranasal within 24 hours of arrival, a health plan that is farm-specific and collated with their vet.

Calves are grouped in pens of 5, according to size and age, making it easier to feed from a milkbar 5-teat feeder system, alongside a Wydale Mixer Trolley. Although being a simple and some say a more labour-intensive method, a milkbar system across 40 pens makes light work when a routine is in place. Dom and Stephen are generally responsible for the feeding of the calves; it takes around an hour and a half to feed, bed and water the pens of calves.

Dom Isgar of Dengrove Farm says: “We are pleased with results from changing powder; the Wynngold Swift mixes well, leaves very little sediment, the calves are performing well and they have excellent fleshing and shine to their coat.”

Since supplying Dengrove Farm with Wynngold Swift, a 21% protein 19% oil milk replacer they have seen an increase in DLWG’s by 15%. Previously they had been using a powder with lower oil levels and less digestible ingredients, therefore the calves were not able to utilise nutrients in order to gain weight, let alone maintain health. Messrs Isgar have had an increase in 0.17kg per day, this is just changing milk replacer and remaining at their previous feed rate, this being 150g/L in 2.5L per feed, final mix rate at 750g over 5L.

‘We are pleased with results from changing powder, the powder mixes well, leaves very little sediment, the calves are performing well, they have excellent fleshing and shine to their coat.’

Calves are weighed on arrival and again when weaned at 8 weeks. As mentioned before, calves come in at 45 -50kg, they will stay on milk for 35 days, fed 750g over 5L, to achieve daily gains of 0.7/0.8kg. ‘We are looking at increasing the feed rate to 900g/6L, we know that the more we feed our calves the more they will gain, providing it is palatable and highly digestible. This will then allow us to achieve an optimum DLWG of 0.8/0.9 DLWG.’

Although the system has proven to be working well, Messrs Isgar are always looking for ways to improve their system.

Firstly, they would like to source the majority of their calves direct from farm, this would reduce the stress factor of calves from market and mixing of several calves from various sources. It would also allow better management of colostrum intake and the calves disease history.

Sheds have been renovated to fi t the system. Calf health and performance can be improved by correcting weaknesses in existing calf housing. The environment in livestock sheds is controlled by three separate factors – fresh air, moisture and air speed. Ideally with the desire to expand in numbers, more shed space is required especially if the sheds are to be disinfected and rested. Igloos have been considered to fi t this system, allowing 12-14 calves to be reared in batches, moved around and cleaned out thoroughly.

Options to consider computerised feeders? Although this would decrease labour, Messrs Isgar believe they have a simple and solid system in place without the need to invest. However, with the desire to increase numbers it would also increase the labour. Dom Isgar likes the idea of the consistency of feeding, allowing calves to feed more frequently with smaller feeds but consuming a larger volume, mimicking natural feeding behaviour. Maybe one to think about for the future with possible grants.

And lastly, achieve higher ADG’S, through improved nutrition and attention to detail, Dengrove Farm have already seen an increase in average daily gains, with an increase of 15%. However, there is always room for improvement.

Our next steps here are to increase litres fed per calf, whilst monitoring growth and cost, to achieve the most economically-viable system.

Millie Hendy

Millie Hendy

Calf & Youngstock Specialist

m: 07717 495746

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