There is a growing interest in feeding calves on an accelerated growth programme pre-weaning, writes CAFRE’s, Christopher Breen.
Increasing the plane of nutrition for calves on milk during the first two months of life reduces the age at first-calving and increases lifetime yield in dairy cows.
Known as metabolic programming, the idea is that early life events can have an impact on later physiological outcomes. It is a dynamic process where the effects are dependent on a specific, critical window of opportunity.
In calves, this critical period is before weaning and starts with adequate colostrum at birth. A 4-litre first feed, followed ten hours later, with a secondary feed of 2-litres of a high Brix score colostrum is recommended.
The accelerated programme targets increased feeding during the first fortnight to 6 litres containing 900 g of milk replacer for four weeks, with concentrate intakes increasing from four weeks of age.
Good quality hay or straw and clean fresh water must always be available.
By six weeks of age, milk feeding begins to reduce before the final weaning phase from eight weeks of age. At this stage, concentrate intakes should be 2 kg per head.
Dr Leonel Leal from Wageningen University and Trouw Nutrition Research and Development describes colostrum as ‘liquid gold’ and says the “first feed is the most important meal in a cow’s lifetime”.
Leonel will outline his research findings on calf rearing and how this impacts on the cow’s health and performance on entry to the milking herd at the upcoming dairy conference - further details below.
Samantha McCarroll, a dairy farmer from Omagh, will also talk at the conference. She will describe how she has improved calf rearing on her farm following a visit to Dutch units advised by Leonel.
The dairy conference, organised by CAFRE, the Ulster Farmers’ Union and Dairy UK, will be held on two dates.
Greenmount Campus, Antrim will host the event on Tuesday, November 19th and the Silverbirch Hotel, Omagh will be the venue on Wednesday, November 20th.
The conference is aimed at dairy farmers and those involved in the industry. Tickets are £25.00/person - To book, see here.