PLAN ahead to maximise stock value and minimise losses. That’s the mantra of Phil Asbury, Farm Manager at Clive Hall Farm, the NW Livestock Dairy Monitor Farm for Cheshire.
Clive Hall is a 62ha farm near Winsford and belongs to the Fletcher & Co contract farming business that manages a number of farms in Cheshire, Shropshire and Herefordshire. The herd of 210 Kiwi Friesian/Jersey crosses at Clive Hall is block calved in the spring and run on a grass-based system.
Phil explained his approach to youngstock management at a monitor farm open day attended by more than 50 farmers from across the region. Clive Hall is in the second year of the NW Livestock Programme and Phil is confident that they are benefiting from being involved.
Benefit from getting involved
“Being part of the Northwest Livestock Programme has really made us look at how we’ve been managing our youngstock rearing on farm,” he said. “It has helped us understand what we are doing right, what we can improve and what we need to stop doing!”
Improving calf health
The first area that the team wanted to improve was the level of scour in young calves.
“Clive Hall Farm’s youngstock performance is generally above average,” commented Ed Hayes of Wright & Morten Veterinary Practice and XL Vets, “but we identified that scour was still a problem and worked with Phil to develop a plan to address it. We also hoped these measures would improve calf growth rates in later life.”
Five areas were identified as key to reducing the incidence of scour and the severity of the disease if it did occur – colostrum and immunity; housing and ventilation; cleanliness and hygiene; disease and treatments; and vaccinations.
Phil told the group about some of the changes they had made in these key areas. “Calves are now given three litres of colostrum in the first six hours, and a further three litres within the next 18 hours. We feed this via a stomach tube, something we’d not done before, but it is working really well.”
He also reinforced the importance of good cleanliness standards. “We make sure all the basics are right, such as keeping the calving pens clean, dry and draft free.
“We are trying hard to clean out the calf pens when calves are moved out of them, and where possible do not put calves back in to pens that have already been used to rear calves this season. We also house the calves in pens of five initially, then move them up to groups of 20 and then 40 by the time they go outside, which keeps things manageable.”
These changes are already having a positive effect, and so far this year of the 100 calves born there hasn’t been a single case of scour.
Calves are moved out to grass early at Clive Hall – between three and five weeks old. They thrive on the good quality grass and only graze 10 to 15 acres at a time so that they don’t spoil the grass for the cows.
The calves are weaned between 8 and 10 weeks old, weighing between 90 and 100kg.
Early grazing is key to heifer weight gain
Guest speaker Emer Kennedy supported this approach, suggesting the biggest influence on the achievement of heifer weight gain targets was the use of early grazing, especially after the first winter. Emer, who is part of the research team at the Moorepark Dairy Research Centre at Teagasc, Ireland explained:
“We’ve conducted research looking at the effect of winter feeding on heifer weight gain profile, body condition score and fertility performance.
“This has shown that early turnout after the winter had a positive effect on maiden heifers’ weight gain profile and that the biggest influence on growth is the effective use of grazed grass. Grazed grass is also very cost effective, so it makes rearing more profitable.”
“We looked closely at target weights and performance and found those that fall behind on first lactation always stay behind, so achieving target weights is critical for increasing long term milk production.”
Good record keeping
Of course, youngstock management is not just about growth rates, costs also come into play if the process is to be profitable. And that’s where record keeping and careful consideration of those records play a part according to independent consultant Dr Kay Carson and James Hague of DairyCo.They identified where losses can occur in heifer rearing, such as through calf mortality and animals being culled before the second lactation. By looking at these aspects, Kay and James have been able to work with Phil and the rest of the Clive Hall team to put targets in place for youngstock performance.
“The key thing is to grow heifers quickly and cost effectively so that they calve down successfully and go on to have good longevity and lifetime yield,” James explained.“Calving at 25 months rather than 28 months could save a 100 cow herd with a typical 20 per cent replacement rate around £8,000 per year, so a focus on youngstock can bring real benefits to farm profitability.”
DairyCo has a useful tool, the Heifer Rearing Calculator, that farmers can access to help work out the costs of heifer rearing, he added.
“There are significant short and long term gains to be made from effective heifer management,” Kay concluded. “And whilst the technical targets are broadly agreed on, the challenge is to ensure that the management practices used on farm help to achieve those targets.
By planning the activities that will deliver those targets, executing the plan, monitoring and reviewing results and then acting on the findings, farmers will see reduced losses and increased profitability.”
For more information about the next Monitor Farm event, or about the RDPE Northwest Livestock Programme, contact Lesley Innes on 01270 625131 ext. 308, or email email@example.com
Or call DairyCo Extension Officer James Hague on 07792 289386.