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The benefits of feeding calves well over summer

Being on target is important

Summer can be a tough time for spring born calves. They should be growing consistently to ensure that all the great work done growing them in the pre-weaning period is not lost.However, it can feel like everything is against them with decreasing pasture quality and quantity and increased animal health risks such as coccidiosis, internal parasites, trace element and vitamin deficiencies and facial eczema.

  • It is difficult to claw back weight gains in our calves after a poor summer.
  • It is better to put on weight consistently to ensure good skeletal and organ development.
  • Periods of feast or famine are not good for growing quality stock.
  • Undergrown heifers produce less milk in their first lactation.
  • Every 1% a heifer is behind on growth targets at 22 months of age equates to 2kg less milk solids in the vat*
  • That equates to a big dollar value, especially if we consider that on average in NZ our heifers are 5% behind target at 22 months with many farms even further behind.
  • If we take the 5% average, that is costing $80 of lost production per animal (based on an $8 payout). For 100 replacement heifers entering the herd that is $8,000 of production lost, or more if the heifers are further off target.
  • Entering the herd at a good weight also improves reproductive performance and survivability in the herd. This means heifers have a better chance of making it to their 5th lactation which is when they are most productive.

Animal health

Calves with poor nutritional support over summer won’t reach weight gains but periods of underfeeding also weakens the immune system making calves more vulnerable to health issues. This means costly vet bills. Health dangers start when meal feeding is ceased too early after weaning. If we dig into it a little more we can see just how much vet bills can add up and it becomes very good justification for feeding our calves better for longer.The biggest health risk for calves aged 3-8 months is coccidiosis. Let’s have a look at how much this alone costs at the vet:

Baycox is commonly used for treating calves with coccidiosis(there are others but let’s look at the most common). For a 100kg calf this works out at about $11 a treatment per calf. This is a cost that could have been easily avoided by keeping a coccidiostat in the diet. By the time a calf has clinical signs of coccidiosis the damage has already been done to the digestive system, so it makes sense to prevent it using a coccidiostat rather than be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff with Baycox. Antibiotic treatment is often used for a calf suffering with coccidiosis as well. Costs vary a lot depending on severity and vet recommendations; a rough rule of thumb is that an antibiotic course could cost anywhere from $11 up to $80 per 100kg calf. This combined with the Baycox is a huge cost and could have been avoided by supporting the calf better nutritionally.

Antibiotic treatment is often used for a calf suffering with coccidiosis as well. Costs vary a lot depending on severity and vet recommendations;a rough rule of thumb is that an antibiotic course could cost anywhere from $11 up to $80 per 100kg calf. This combined with the Baycox is a huge cost and could have been avoided by supporting the calf better nutritionally.

Pasture doesn’t always provide enough support

  • Pasture is the largest part of the diet for our weaned calves, so they are vulnerable to changes in pasture quality and quantity.
  • Summer grass is often not good enough to support calves to put on the weight we need them to.
  • To the right is the requirement per kg of dry matter for a 100kg calf putting on 800 grams a day. As you can see the energy and protein requirement is generally not met by average summer pasture or summer dry pasture.
  • If there is not enough of this pasture available too, this would further impact weight gains.

Keeping a calf feed in for longer pays dividends

If pasture quality or quantity is not going to cut the mustard for calves, it’s a no brainer to keep a calf feed with a coccidiostat for longer. The benefits are better weight gains and a reduction in animal health issues and vet bills.