The True Cost of Under-performing Calves.

We have been running a series of Calf Signals workshops over the last few months.  These workshops have been run by vet Owen Atkinson and even though I have been to a lot of them, it’s still fascinating to learn what all the different ‘bottle necks’ are on each farm.  Not surprising the most common one has been during the 0-3 month stage of life. But what is the true cost of underperforming calves during the pre-weaning stage?
While it is clear that there is a great deal more focus being paid to calf rearing these days, driven I believe by the removal of antibiotic milk powder. It is still clear that we are under feeding calves and, as Owen Atkinson pointed out in the last Calf Signals training day , if we look at how calves in the UK have been fed, it’s safe to say that we have, historically, been underfeeding calves for the past 30 years!
So just how much does a calf need?
Perhaps the question should be what are you/your business looking to gain from that animal?  ‘Early life nutrition and management can pre-program the metabolism of a calf to determine her life-time productivity’ (Soberon, Lifestart). Think carefully about that animal in the crucial 0-3 month stage because a strong, healthy and well grown calf during this stage will significantly impact her future production and your bottom line!
Metabolic Programming
What you do in that first 3 months of life will affect her from 2 years old and beyond. A strong healthy and well grown calf will have higher milk yields, develop into a stronger more durable cow with a higher lifetime production.  Surely this is a no brainer for your business?

Source: Dairy Co
That’s an extra 5 tons of milk by moving from 25m to 22m calving!! Looking at these figures, it is clear that  both your heifer and your bottom line will benefit from calving between the ages of 22-24 years old. But how do you get there?
Using whole milk or a high quality milk replacer fed intensively is the key to unlocking targeted improvements in performance (Lifestart, 2014).
Traditionally we have only been feeding calves 4L of milk a day, clearly not enough. For optimal performance we must aim to feed our calves 150g/1L of good quality milk replacer and building to feed 6L a day at a rate of 900g.  However, in cold weather (i.e 10˙ or below) calves require additional calories to maintain growth, so aim for 165g/1L.
Calves fed for greater pre-weaning average daily live weight gains are two times more likely to have greater milk yield in the first lactation. In addition, growing your heifers during that period will help you achieve the target serving height of 125cm (for Holstein). 
Written by Rebecca Richards – Calf Specialist
Follow Rebecca: @richardscalf1
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