Monday, 8 February 2010

Dairy Calf Rearing is Possibly the Most Important Task on a Dairyfarm

Calf rearing is possibly the single most important job to get right on a grass based dairy farm. The reason I say that is that young stock or heifer rearing is potentially the real wealth creator on a dairy farm.
Assuming that there is a tight block calving (9-12 weeks) & that empty rates are controlled below 10%.....surplus heifer calves can either be used to grow the business, improve the herd quality or be sold for cash. A successful heifer rearing unit on a grass based dairy farm can grow wealth in a very similar way to compound interest.
It is effectively Dairy Compound Interest. (DCI....a new piece of jargon!). The second reason I think calf rearing is so important is that there is very good evidence that the weaning weight has a huge influence on heifer weights at mating & at first calving.The Heifer Liveweight Targets need to be set at 90% of mature cow liveweight at first calving. Calves that struggle during the milk feeding stage prior to weaning seem to struggle up to 15 months & often calve down under weight.These heifers then under produce in the first lactation as they are still growing....the risk of not getting back in calf is substantial.
Heifer calves must be weaned on weight NOT age. If you dont have scales then use a weigh band which are reasonably accurate up to 4-5 months of age.
Jersey calves should be weaned at 70-80kgs, XBred at 85-90kgs & Friesians at 95-100kgs.

New born calves must get good quality colostrum within the first 12 hours of birth. There is a very good argument for block calving herds to individually feed new borns that colostrum to make sure they get it. What ever milk feeding system you use it needs to focus on ensuring the calf gets a consistent intake of high quality milk solids(energy).If you are feeding fresh milk one option is to fortify the liquid with milk powder.

The second priority is to feed good quality roughage (straw or hay) to encourage the rumen to develop before weaning. The calves will nibble away at straw virtually from day one just as they will eat a dry calf feed in addition to the liquid milk. This is essential to negate any set back at weaning.

Ofcourse good quality housing, clean bedding,access to fresh water, no draughts but good ventilation are all part of successful calf rearing. The real issue is not at the start of calving as everything is clean & only recently set up...the real problems often occur during the second half of calving when everyone is tired & the routines are not strictly kept to every day.
It's really important that everyone in the team all do every task the same way as the regular calf rearer. It's the strict quality control over mixes, quantities & routines that makes such a huge difference. For example does the team all mix electrolyte in exactly the same way?
What measures have you taken to ensure this always happens (see photo).
On these websites the target weights are clearly set out for the different breeds.
It concerns me that so few farmers are regularly weighing heifers. How do you know if your investment in young stock is on target? I think every discussion group should invest in a set of modern scales for weighing cattle. It's ideally suited to group purchase as each farm may only use them say 12 times a year. Modern cattle scales are highly portable.
Without weighing you have NO idea!.


  1. I was of the impression that nearly all the science behind calf rearing states that the weaning should be defined by dry matter intake of 1kg concentrates per day, and not by age or wieght.

  2. My husband have had horses and chickens ever since we got married. We want to buy some dairy cows and livestock scales next. My husband will be in charge of choosing the cows so hopefully we get some good ones and breed even better ones.