As the drive to improve sustainability on farms ramps up, farmers are being reminded of the importance of maximising the efficiency of their dairy calves as well as feeding sustainable products.
Dr Jessica Cooke, from Volac, believes maximising the efficiency of any dairy herd starts with the calf.
She said: “Calves have the greatest feed conversion efficiency potential early on in life, so nutritionists have always striven to take maximum advantage of this period.
By not taking advantage of the high feed conversion efficiency potential early in life - heifers will have to grow more later in life when feed conversion efficiency is low - to reach the same body weight at first calving.”
Dr Cooke said beyond the milk feeding period, it’s also important to achieve growth rate targets efficiently to avoid delaying the age at first calving.
“A heifer calving at 24 months of age will start to return a profit in the second lactation, whereas a heifer calving at 30 months will not return a profit until it’s into its third lactation,” she said. “A delay in age at first calving contributes to an overall reduction in the efficiency of a dairy herd due to lost milking days.”
However, she said that efficiency is also about getting ‘more from less’ or even ‘the same from less’, adding: “When it comes to providing the right pre-weaning nutrition in the current climate, we also need to consider sustainability. And the inputs of early life calf production are primarily concerned with the ingredients used in milk formulas.
“Sustainable sourcing of ingredients for milk powder formulations is becoming extremely important and, in this particular context, manufacturers have to consider both the impact of growing the ingredient and also the usefulness of that ingredient in meeting the nutrition requirements of the growing calf.”
One approach to improve sustainability is to maximise the quality and use of home-grown ingredients.
“Feeding the dairy calf gives rise to the opportunity to have an impact on lifetime performance potential and efficiency through the use of modern calf milk formulas from Mole Valley Farmers. This represents a lifetime sustainability approach far greater than what can be achieved through feeding whole milk from the cow,” said Dr Cooke.
“However, when it comes to selecting calf milk formula ingredients, we need to understand how these have been produced. This involves issues such as land use, deforestation and social impacts on local communities - particularly when formulating ingredients sourced from overseas. We also need to evaluate yield per hectare, fertiliser and pesticide use and energy input requirements.”
Dr Cooke said palm olein, a liquid form of palm oil and a key ingredient in many modern calf milk formulas, is often in the spotlight when it comes to sustainable sourcing.