Adopting a stress free rearing system coupled with good nutrition and calf protocols has paid dividends for the Jones brothers who have developed a successful calf rearing enterprise building up from 200 to 1400 reared calves over a period of 3 years.
1000ft above sea level in Colwyn Bay is a good healthy place for a calf rearing enterprise. However, as with all ‘bought in‘ calves there are inherent disease risks and brothers Arfon and Gerallt Jones at Llindir Farm have had to develop strategies to get their calves off to a good start.
The two brothers started the calf enterprise rearing 200 calves in existing buildings in 2012. The gritting business and sheep also demand time so they invested in a Holm & Laue 100 computerised calf feeder as a way of making sure the calves were fed on time, even when they were away on another job. Each calf wears a transponder collar which allows the calf to have 750g of milk powder per day. They are allowed 5.2 litres/day, split into 4 or more feeds throughout the day. The milk is restricted but available in small meals, this simulates natural behaviour, promoting better digestion and less stress. The machine records information and generates an alarm list and a ‘credit’ list which acts as an early warning system, when a calf starts to drink slowly, or doesn’t arrive for a meal, the calf number is flagged up.
The calves are around 14-21 days old on arrival so the machine is set to start weaning the calves at 18 days and reduces the amount fed by 0.2 litres/day until 39 days. This slow, gradual weaning onto 18% weaner nuts allows gradual rumen development and a stress free weaning period. The calves are kept in groups of 25 on the machine and split into groups of 12 or 13 after weaning. They stay with the same cohort all the way through to minimise stress caused by mixing groups. The nuts are fed in an auger bucket to speed up feeding time, allowing more time for calf care.
The automated system has been so successful they now have 4 Holm & Laue 100 machines both new and secondhand, each one running 2 feed stalls for 50 calves. Two new sheds have been built in the last 3 years to provide extra accommodation. The calves are two thirds continental cross and one third Holstein bulls. Since the price of skimmed milk dropped they feed a 22% protein, 18% fat skimmed milk powder and 18% weaner nuts with ad lib straw. The skim milk base gives a bloom to their coats and growth rates average at around 0.9 – 1kg/day.
Calves are around 3 weeks on entry and reach 140-150kg after 12 weeks. Currently there are 200 calves on the milk machines and 230 weaned calves at any one time, with new batches arriving every week.
The calves have their backs shaved and are given a H&L transponder collar/number on arrival. They receive Bovipast vaccine on arrival and a booster at 4 weeks. Covexin is used at the same time as dehorning to prevent Blackleg. The baby calf pens are mucked out every 2 weeks to reduce humidity and at least 2kg of straw per calf per day is used. ‘Plenty of milk and plenty of straw is cheaper than medicines’ says Arfon. An ‘all in, all out’ policy is essential to prevent disease carry over from one batch to another, and it allows the shed to be cleaned down, disinfected and dried before the next batch arrives. A fan system is sometimes used to circulate fresh air if the sheds become muggy.
Trutest scales and electronic tags are used to track the progress of calves through the unit with calves being weighed at 4 weeks old and subsequently at 3 week intervals. Each batch takes 90 days to finish and following a TB test they can then move on to a beef fattening unit. Working with a calf group like Meadow Quality gives the brothers confidence in their future. The calves are already sold before entering the unit, so they are never left with unsold calves.
Written by Gill Dickson – National Calf Specialist
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