When the milk pay-out dropped in the 2015/2016 season, a lot of cow’s milk was fed to calves and farmers reported that they struggled post-weaning off milk.
There are several ways to avoid a post-weaning slump after milk has been removed from the calf diet:
- Limit long fibre intakes of young calves when housed. In trials, calves have only consumed straw at 20g/ kg total solid feed intake or hay at 50g/kg total solid feed intake, although they wasted about three times more than they consumed. If long fibre is easily available, especially if it is appealing like some pea straw and lucerne hay, calves tend to eat too much and have less interest in trough feed. NRM Ready Rumen contains some lucerne chaff, so is a good option for controlled delivery of long fibre to housed young calves.
- Limit fat concentration in the diet both in the milk and hard feed. High fat milk tends to be satisfying for calves and reduces interest in hard feed. Milk from the vat tends to be richer in fat relative to protein compared to milk replacer. Fortifying cow’s milk with calf milk replacer is one way to shift the fat to protein ration and increase nutrient intake without increasing feeding volumes. High energy calf feeds rich in by-products can be high in fat to reach target energy levels but their fat content may limit rumen development and dry matter intakes.
- Consider a whey based milk replacer like NRM Power Whey to finish off milk feeding after transition milk has been used up – it tends to digest faster than casein based powders, so calves are looking for feed between meals.
- Intakes of loose meals may be good initially but tend to reach a peak, whereas pelleted feed intake seems to keep rising. If you are not satisfied with how meal intakes are tracking, try a well-formed pellet like NRM GrowUp 20%.
- Avoid stale feed building up in feed troughs and feeders – especially when wet, as it will quickly mold and deter intakes.
- Ensure calves always have easy access to clean drinking water.
- Only wean off milk when hard feed intakes are at least 1kg/ head/day for Jersey calves, up to 1.5kg/day for Friesians.
- Weigh calves and wean small ones later if they are to have any chance of catching up with their bigger herd mates.
- Avoid stresses at weaning such as disbudding, castration and vaccinations, if possible avoid periods of inclement weather.
- Keep on a 20 percent protein starter feed for a while after weaning and be prepared to not drop to a 16 percent if pasture quality is not excellent.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help if faced with a new problem – every year poses a different challenge.
- Avoid worker fatigue – as the season wears on people can get tired and performance levels drop.
To see some great calf rearing tips, perhaps stock up on popcorn one evening and work your way through the 17 Farmlands calf rearing videos – available on the Nutrition section of the Farmlands website. The videos will offer something to both new and experienced calf rearers, following the calf rearing process from picking up newborn calves in the paddock through to weighing weaned calves.
Article supplied by Rob Derrick, Nutritionist.