2014-03-03   facebook twitter rss

Top NI Heifer Rearers Host Calf Event

Mark and Denis Blelock, winners of the Volac NI Heifer Rearer of the Year Competition, hosted a calf husbandry event for fellow producers.

Mark Blelock and his father Denis farm 230 acres at Ballyrobin Road, Crumlin with their 120 Holsteins milked through a parlour producing 8068 litres in 2013 at 4.06% butterfat and 3.26% protein. Currently the calving index is 405 days.

Volac Calf Rearing Event

Volac Calf Rearing Event

Commenting on costs Jason McFerran, CAFRE advisor noted that benchmarking figures show that the top 25% of rearers in NI are bringing heifers into production aged 24 months at a cost of under £1,400. Almost half the heifer rearing cost on the bottom 25% of farms benchmarked.

Feed 50% More Colostrum Say Scientists
Three, not as previously thought, two litres of colostrum are required promptly by new born calves according to AFBI Hillsborough scientists. Speaking at the calf husbandry event on the Blelock family farm adjacent to Belfast International Airport Dr Stephen Morrison revealed that research shows that today’s dairy calves need at least three litres of their mother’s colostrum.

“Ideally within two hours of birth and certainly before six hours have passed quality colostrum must be fed by tube or bottle,” the AFBI scientist asserted.

“If you simply let a calf suck the cow there is no certainty enough colostrum has been drunk. Yet getting a bad start in life due to insufficient colostrum and the antibodies it contains has a huge and costly impact. Aside from higher mortality and poor thrive on farm research shows that calves denied enough colostrum produce a 1,000 litres less milk in later life.”

Dr Morrison also urged farmers to take time to check colostrum quality and
when selecting a milk replacer for any stage of the calf’s life he strongly advised taking time to read the label.

“Make sure protein levels are high and that the right type of animal based proteins, such as whey, have been used by the powder manufacturer.

“Above all, do not use colostrum from another farm or indeed cow as this risks disease transmission. Use the calf’s own mother’s colostrum or a quality powder replacer.”

Comments, which evoked a lively discussion on the practicalities of ensuring every calf gets sufficient colostrum no matter what the hour of birth.

As regards research Alistair Sampson of Volac noted how trials on 40 farms using 750 calves had demonstrated that Calf Volostrum was an easy to use and highly effective substitute for colostrum.

“Volac Calf Volostrum, like all Volac milk powders for calves and lambs, is made in Wales using whey protein bought from processing plants nationwide, including NI,” Alistair added. “Thus those using Volac Volostrum are supporting their own industry and are feeding a proven product with 76% crude protein.

“For added peace of mind Volostrum is pasteurised against Johne’s disease and is EBL, enzootic bovine leucosis, free.”

Calf House Impresses
Two years ago Mark Blelock invested in a new milking parlour and opted to include an adjacent calf rearing unit in the development.

With his father Denis hinting that the days of carrying buckets were gone a Forster Technik computer controlled calf feeder from Volac was also installed.

Admiring the resulting unit visitors commented on the lack of smell, lack of draughts and batches of even clean calves. A tribute to the high standards of husbandry and the design of the rearing shed.

“Calves have ready access to clean water, a great depth of straw, concentrate feed and, of course, milk powder fed at a constant concentration and temperature,” Pat Cahill of Volac explained.

“Mark and Denis have a target in mind right from birth for heifers that they are calved and into the parlour producing milk by 24 months. An aim achieved year in year out by great attention to detail. The meticulous hard work that adds up to good husbandry.

“The most profitable age at which a heifer can join the milking herd is 24 months yet the average cow in NI only comes into the parlour a costly five months later aged 29 months. In England and Wales the average is even further off the mark at 30 months old!

“Hitting the age for weight target boosts yields, longevity, fertility and general good health, which all adds up to a much more encouraging margin on the bottom line of farm accounts.

“Here Mark and Denis have heifers averaging 750g DLWG over the first 12 weeks with two bags of milk powder used per calf. Weaning is at 85 to 90kg around 12 weeks with this feeding well early in life yielding lifelong dividends.

Getting the young animal’s digestive system well developed to handle silage is vital so ensuring straw, concentrates and fresh water are available early is essential. Indeed concentrates are on offer from day five.”

Mark Blelock adding that pellets are fed instead of meal as this means every mouthful of concentrates consumed is the same. Denis and Mark also place great importance on offering straw as both bedding and a feed as no hay is used. Bedding deep in the dry lying area means calves can snuggle down making a nest in very cold weather and the water used is not cold as it comes from the plate cooler in the dairy.

As regards the switch to an automatic feeder this has been a huge success in reducing labour, giving more time to actually check stock and producing consistent batches of heifers coming forward trouble free and on target.

Calf growth key to herd productivity
“Calf health is the cornerstone of heifer rearing”, commented veterinary surgeon Mairéad O’Grady.

“Calves which thrive in those critical first 2 months of life are more likely to reach first lactation and also yield more milk in that first lactation. These heifers pay for themselves sooner as a result of this increased productivity.
“The Blelock family farm is an excellent example of this with heifers calving at less than 24 months old and producing their second calf 12 months later,” Mairéad added.
“I would urge all rearers to discuss with their own farm vet a check list of common diseases and put control measures in place to prevent problems at a later stage.

“BVD can be at the root of a whole series of costly problems on a dairy farm so by identifying BVD Persistently Infected cattle and removing them promptly the huge impact of this disease can be minimised. Figures from the BVD scheme in the Republic of Ireland show that over 30% of PI animals have been retained in the herd of origin rather than culling these highly infectious animals. This is both disappointing and worrying.

“Why? These animals are carriers that can cost you a great deal of money if they are not got off the farm within a few days of being identified.”

Continuing Mairéad advised producers to include BVD vaccination before service in their management system. “Over 90% of all the PI calves identified in RoI and NI to date have arisen from normal healthy dams which were unfortunate to pick up BVD infection in early pregnancy.

Vaccinating prior to pregnancy could have prevented this from happening.

“Two important diseases farmers should focus on controlling are scour and pneumonia in calves as keeping deaths and treatments at an acceptable level will boost growth rates. Scour prevention requires excellent colostrum management, deep, dry bedding and specific control measures such as cow vaccination with Rotavec Corona prior to calving. “

Continuing, the MSD Animal Health veterinarian reviewed protection against pneumonia and highlighted the success a vaccination programme with Bovipast RSP can have in a calf rearing programme as it helps control two of the common viruses which cause pneumonia and also the bacteria Pasteurella (Mannheimia) haemolytica, which is present in all healthy calves and leads to pneumonia and ill thrift when calves become stressed. Common stressors are moving groups or pens, draughts, cold and weaning.

“Much of the success we see here today is due to the disciplined approach to health and husbandry taken by Mark and Denis Blelock.

“Taking control of herd health means monitoring livestock performance from day one and ensuring they achieve weight for age targets. A weigh bridge is an invaluable piece of equipment for any farm but if weigh bridges are not available calves can be assessed by using weigh bands at key points such as prior to weaning to ensure growth rates are optimal. Young stock failing to thrive are spotted before a problem becomes a crisis.”


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