Successful calf rearing the key to profitable dairy calf to beef
Fergal Maguire, Teagasc DairyBeef 500 advisor, gives an update on how calf rearing has gone for monitor farmer Aidan Maguire, Navan, Co. Meath in this article.
By January 2023, all the finishing animals on Aidan Maguire’s farm had being slaughtered. Performance was excellent, with the average carcass weight for the steers being 308kg ranging from 260kg to 352kg. Considering that the average age of slaughter of these steers was less than 22 months, these results are impressive. Aidan strongly believes that one of the keys to reduced slaughter age is having a calf at the end of the milk rearing stage that is healthy and is ready to thrive when he hits grass.
Annually, Aidan will purchase 140 calves and - up to now - he has not lost a calf in two years. One of the reasons for the low calf mortality rate on this farm is Aidan’s purchasing policy. Aidan will not buy a calf that is less than three weeks of age. Even at that, if the calf looks thin or anyway off form he will not take him. This means that the calf is over the danger period for rotavirus and coronavirus scour and if it does get a touch of crypto scour, the calf is strong enough to overcome it.
All calves are dosed for coccidiosis on the trailer and are feed that evening with 3L of milk mixed up with 450g of milk powder. For the first three or four days on farm they get 500g of milk replacer once a day and this is reduced down to 450g of milk replacer once a day until the calf is about 65 days old. Two days after the calf arrives on the farm, it will get vaccinated for pneumonia and will get an IBR vaccine intranasal. The booster for pneumonia will be administered a month later.
Like most dairy calf to beef farms, the calf shed on Aidan’s farm is not purposely built for rearing calves. The shed is high, open and can be cold. However, by putting stock board on gates and keeping calves well bedded, Aidan doesn’t have a problem with pneumonia or chills. The straw is always dry and calves can snuggle down into it during cold weather. Aidan’s guide is to use a round bale of straw per eight calves per week. Even though it seems an excessive amount of straw, he only had to inject one calf last year.
When it comes to feeding milk to calves, Aidan’s philosophy is that you don’t get prizes for fat calves. He believes that the milk feeding stage of a calf’s diet should be to transition them onto solid food as quick as possible so that the rumen is well devolved by the time they go to grass. Very palatable calf starter meal is introduced to calves the moment they arrive on farm. Fresh water and straw is kept in with the calves at all times. By day 65, the calves are eating upon 2kg of meal and this is when he reduces the grams of milk replacer fed over the next five days. This spring's weaned calves are consuming between 16-18kg of milk replacer in total, but are consuming over 2kg of concentrates a day by the time they are weaned. Even though Aidan does not feed a huge volume of milk replacer per calf, he has a calf that’s rumen is developed fully by being exposed to high levels of solid food during the milk feeding stage. These calves will then be able to utilise and thrive on the quality grass that they get in their first grazing season.
As soon as weather conditions improve, weaned calves are moved out to grass. They are rotationally moved every 24 hours into 1,100kg DM/ha covers and receive 1kg of meal. In 2022 that kilogram of meal was kept with calves throughout the summer because of a shortage of grass. But if there is plentiful grass supplies in mid-summer, the stronger calves are taken off the meal and go back onto it in mid-September. The aim is to have this year’s calves weighing at least 260kg at housing next winter.
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