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Get your calves off to the best possible start

>Lar and John French have been working closely with their GAIN Feeds Business Manager, Joe Lyng on the ‘Feed For Growth’ calf rearing programme over the past year.

Lar French in partnership with his son John milk 89 Friesian dairy cows on their 150 acre grazing platform in Old Court, Adamstown, Co. Wexford. They have been farming in partnership since January 2016 and farm a total of 150 acres, of which 103 are owned.

Calf Nutrition

John French states that “regardless of whether they are suckling the cow or not, each newborn calf receives at least three litres of colostrum immediately after birth. Giving quality colostrum is critical to ensure that they thrive and stand the best chance of survival. We use ‘GAIN Easi Mix Calf Milk Replacer’ from four days onwards. It’s easy to mix and the 25% protein level promotes good early growth. The young calves find the milk replacer easy to digest and the Biomos and Digest VO in the health package gives their immune system a good boost.”

“We start the calves on 2 litres of milk replacer at 125g per litre morning and evening and over the space of 10 days we have them up to 3 litres of milk replacer at 125 grams per litre morning and evening.”

The French’s introduce ‘GAIN Starta Calf’ once the calf enters the pen, at about two to three days after birth. They are then put on ‘GAIN Calf Crunch’ a week later. GAIN Feeds Business Manager Joe Lyng adds that “both calf feeds contain Yea-Sacc® live yeast from Alltech which supports digestion and calf performance. They are High in Vitamin E and contain Minplex (Bioplex® copper, zinc, manganese & Selplex® selenium) protected minerals which improve mineral availability.” All the calves are kept on straw bedding and given straw to nibble at from a feeder.

Fertility

‘We A.I. about 90% of the cows and use an Angus bull to cover any missed heats. We are hoping to improve solids, genetics and fertility,’ said Lar.

Lar and John used sexed semen two years ago, but have switched back to regular A.I., ‘We used regular A.I. on all the heifers last year. We got satisfactory results. It nearly works out the same for us. We found that those cows that won’t stand for service, tend to repeat more with sexed semen rather than regular semen.’

Weight Targets

In terms of target weights, Lar aims to have his calves weighing between 35kg to 40kg at birth. ‘We would aim to have the calves weighing between 95 to 100 kg at weaning and 300kg at time of first service. We aim to have the heifers calving from February onwards so that they are a full 2 years old. At this point we feel that they are mature enough.’ John explained.

Calf Health

‘Thankfully, we have had no need to vaccinate for Halocur. We vaccinate for IBR a couple of days after birth. We also dose them with Bovipast twice after that.’

‘We vaccinate for BVD and Lepto before bulling and Salmonella after breeding. The calves are vaccinated using Trivacton, which covers Blackleg.’

The French’s keep all the Friesian heifers for replacement heifers, ‘We keep all the bull calves and sell them as stores at 18 months. Anything that would be classed as beef heifers, we would finish them at 18-20 months.’

Last year, they had a very good year in terms of heifer numbers, ‘Thirty four Friesian heifers, excluding Angus heifer calves. We would be hoping to cull and get in better stock in terms of fertility and solids with the aim of increasing numbers over the coming years,’ said John.

Benefits

The French’s admits that the biggest benefit of the Feed For Growth calf rearing programme has been the continuous help, guidance and support from GAIN Feeds Business Manager, Joe Lyng. John highlights that, ‘we get the calves in with Joe every couple of weeks to see how they are progressing. It means that if there is a problem or potential problem, we can act quickly to avoid further problems.’

‘It allows us to be more aware of how the calves are progressing, if calves need to be taken out if they’re not keeping up with the rest. You are always aware of the targets. If you don’t hit the targets early on you fall behind, you’re playing catch up then.’

The programme is very beneficial as it allows the French’s to get more of a return on their investment in terms of capital and labour, ‘For us, the saving on labour is huge. We don’t have to haul milk as we mix the GAIN milk replacer in the calf shed,’ adds Lar.

Learnings

John finds it much easier to meet their specific targets. ‘With Joe, we measure the calves progress every couple of weeks in spring. The majority exceeded the targets set, with some of them reaching 0.8kg weight gain per day. You can see them developing, getting stronger.’

‘They are very well developed. We sell the bullocks as 18 month stores. Once they are let onto grass, we would expect them to really drive on. They key difference is that they are less prone and susceptible to disease when they are stronger.’

‘We have never had as strong a bunch of calves as we have now. They really hit the grass running. They thrived right through the summer. We feel that they were more prepared for adapting to grazing and to drive on.’

Feed for Growth Programme

According to GAIN Feeds Business Manager Joe Lyng “the first 3 months are fundamental when determining a new-born calf’s adult performance – a critical point which is all too often overlooked. That’s why Volac have created the Feed For Growth programme which is supported by Glanbia and GAIN Feeds. The pre-wean period is crucial for rearing efficiency, herd performance, and ultimately the profitability of the farm. When we launched the programme last year the feedback was extremely positive from farmers so we will be working with 300 farmers again this year on the programme.”

John and Lar French with GAIN Feeds Business Manager Joe Lyng

First Published 26 January 2017

Tagged with: Dairy

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