Giving your calves the best possible start
The calves born today are your future dairy herd so any decisions made now will impact on your business and bottom line.
But what can the age at first calving (AFC) mean for your future earnings and why has it been consistently dropping for the last 13 years?
The latest NMR statistics, released in January and involving 500 herds, revealed the top 25% are still averaging over 24 months, with the median value just over 26 months.
Improving AFC benefits lifetime cow performance, potential farm profitability and can also reduce your farm’s carbon footprint. But attention to detail and consistency, alongside a proactive and quick response to challenges, is key to rearing healthy calves that reach their required performance targets.
The importance of colostrum
A newborn calf has no protective antibodies to fight disease and is reliant on those in their first colostrum feeds. Inadequate colostrum can lead to poor health, low growth rates and high mortality.
The Five Q’s of gold standard colostrum feeding are Quickly, Quality, Quantity, Quietly and sQueaky clean.
Colostrum is more than just antibodies. As well as increased protein and fat percentages compared to whole milk, colostrum also contains bioactive compounds including insulin-like growth factor-1, growth hormone, insulin and oestrogen.
The roles and benefits of these are not yet fully understood, however recent research from industry expert, Dr Alex Bach of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies in Barcelona (ICREA), suggests we should take colostrum within four hours of calving and give to the calf within 6 hours. After this time there is a decline in bioactive compounds and their potential benefit is lost.
Table 1: The difference in nutrient composition between colostrum, transition milk and whole milk
Additionally, recent evidence demonstrates a benefit of stimulated intestinal development, increased weight gain and health scores when feeding transition milk for up to four days post calving before moving onto a milk replacer. (Soest et al., 2022)
Brix refractometers offer an easy and accurate way to determine colostrum IgG concentration and grants are currently available under the Farming Equipment and Technology Fund (FETF).
Calf Milk Replacer
Calf milk replacers provide a consistent, high quality and guaranteed disease-free solution to suit and meet the needs of a wide range of systems and we offer a comprehensive and cost-effective range of high-quality milk powders. Investment in high quality calf milk replacer based on milk proteins will give calves the best possible start.
Consistency is key. Volume, concentration, temperature, time and frequency of milk feeds are all important factors. Don’t guess. Use a thermometer to check the temperature of both the water and mixed milk, then scales for quantity of powder, making sure you follow then manufacturer’s instructions.
World class nutrition
Our products are underpinned by world class nutrition. Our aim is to take the latest knowledge and product innovation and make this available, applicable and relevant on farm. With the help of scientists at Nottingham and Reading universities our calf and heifer trials have been the driver of our current calf milk replacer and calf starter range.
The new Nutrient Requirements for Dairy Cattle publication (2021) by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) provides a more accurate way of estimating calf nutrition, including dry matter intake predictions.
Latest research highlights the importance of calf starter intake on rumen development and calculating the optimum time to wean calves to avoid growth issues. It emphasises the importance of encouraging early intake of calf starter and for calves to be consuming consistently higher volumes than previously targeted.
A highly palatable, good quality, specialist calf starter feed, like our Ambition Calf + OM range, should be offered to calves from day one.
Feeding in a shallow bowl, like a metal dog bowl, for the first few weeks can help encourage early intakes as young calves can be reluctant to stick their head into a dark, deep bucket. Its freshness and water availability are also important factors.