How do You Decide to Wean Calves?
This week I have seen many heifer calves that have just been weaned. When do you wean your calves? How do you decide to wean? Most use age/number of weeks of milk feeding?????? Do you know how much they weigh????
Why NOT..........even a weigh band is useful for calves. However we must step up a notch here & start using scales to weigh heifers regularly.
The groups who have calculated the 'cost of rearing heifers' have discovered that the farmers who spend the most during the milk feeding phase actually have the lowest overall costs for heifer rearing. A number of dairy farmers in the Pasture to Profit Discussion Groups have discovered that to only feed milk for short periods of time is NOT a saving with heifer rearing. This is a very important message. One farmer in the Hybrids group in Devon weaned last year after 8 weeks of milk feeding when the Crossbred dairy calves were 85 kgs liveweight. He spent all spring & summer feeding extra concentrates to the heifers in an attempt to get them up to target.
This year the heifer replacement calves are being weaned after 12 weeks of daily milk feeding & when they have reached the target weaning weight of 100kgs. Much better calves Much better result!
Calf milk powder is often cheaper than wholemilk but you still must feed at least 165grams per litre of water to get good calves. Many think that should be lifted to 200 grams to ensure you reach the target weaning weights on time. Increasing the concentration by reducing the water is a good option as it is the daily intake of Energy/Milksolids that is important for the calf NOT the volume of milk. Calf feeding is about calf growth & the rapid development of the rumen....so access to a grain like whole maize or a concentrate PLUS straw PLUS grass is very important.
We All Gain From International Visitors
I have been very fortunate to have had a visit from Nuffield Scholar Graeme Nicoll from Victoria Australia. I am also hosting/mentoring French student Gwennoline Caroff from Toulose Uni in France who is looking at heifer rearing practices in Quebec, Denmark, Brittany & UK. So far one of the main differences between the countries is the culling rate (required replacements) & the degree of voluntary culling.We all learn so much from these exchanges.
So have you weaned your heifer calves too early?
I was excited to see Alex in Hampshire part of the Realfarmers Discussion Group with a new set of Tru Test 3000 cattle scales. These NZ made cattle scales are world class & can record & weigh large numbers of calves very quickly. Calves need only be steady on the platform for a few seconds to accurately record the weight.
Many more farms need to invest in a good set of Cattle Scales....I would recomend Tru Test which is what I used in Australia to regularly weigh over 10,000 heifers for weight gain contacts.
Pasture Covers, Growth & Rotations
Farmers all over the UK (except Cornwall & SW Wales) are reporting falling growth rates & very dry conditions....this is a worry given that spring has only just arrived. Check your pasture wedge graphs to see when holes/deficits are likely to happen on your farm. What are you going to do about it if it doesnt rain? First issue is should you cut all your silage????? Maybe not...maybe you can use the shortest silage to extend your rotation by using it like a crop. If you add in any supplement or deferred grass you MUST extend your round. Getting caught on a short rotation in a dry period is a disaster waiting to happen.
Cumbria 2200kg Av Cover, 67 kg/ha/day pasture growth, 25 days, V Dry
Cheshire Organic 2000, 40 growth, 35 days
Northern Ireland 2237, 97 growth, 22 days demand 66
North Wales 2168, 53 growth, 21 day
Staffordshire 1860, 47 growth, 30 day, very high DM feed
Staffordshire 2050, 52 growth, 27 days very dry
Shropshire 2438, 47 growth,
Shropshire 2000, 59 growth, 25 days
Herefordshire 2075, 65 growth, 20 days, demand 60
Herefordshire 2050, 44 growth, 21 days
Gloucestershire 2068, 68 growth, 20 days
SE Wales 2075, 37 growth, dry already
Derbyshire 1961, 37 growth, 23 days, dry
South West Wales 2100, 107 growth, 20 days
South West Wales organic 2045, 40 growth, 22 days
Limerick Ireland 2100, 75 growth, 21 days
Somerset organic 2260, 48 growth, 34 days
Dorset 2199, 48 growth, 25 days , very dry
Devon 2050, 47 growth, 40 days, very dry
Cornwall 2320, 120 growth
Cornwall 2150, 75 growth, 17 days
Sussex 2079, 37 growth, 21 days, very dry have put autumn herd on OAD milking to reduce demand.
Clearly the lack of rain is threatening pasture growth rates & on farm changes MUST happen NOW