Oaklands Farm, the home of the Whiteoaks herd of 300 milking Jerseys with followers, have recently focused their attention on the effective rearing of young stock. The aim is to triple birth weight by weaning at around 63 days old, with the intention of accelerating intakes and growth rates, resulting in heifers calving in by 22 months and lasting a lactation longer. Sarah Jarvis met with George White (Owner), Mark Moore (Herdsman) and Lyn Smith (GLW Calf Specialist) to find out what changes they have made to achieve this aim.
Newborn calves are removed from their dams and then housed in individual pens. Each calf receives six litres of ‘first milking’ colostrum in their first two feeds, on day one and another six litres of ‘second milking’ colostrum on day two which is well excess of the recommended feeding rate of 10% of body weight. Feeding good quality Colostrum is key and a vital part in giving the calf the right start.
All colostrum from freshly calved cows is analysed with a refractometer on farm for milk proteins (IgGs). A reading of 22 and above will guarantee at least 50g of immunoglobulins per litre, but the higher the reading the better. Having passed the test the colostrum is then bagged and pasteurised using a Coloquip machine. The pasteuriser raises the temperature of the milk to 60C and maintains it there for an hour before cooling it back down to drinking temperature. Following pasteurisation a second analysis is completed to ensure the quality has been maintained before being fed, or frozen. The pasteurising machine is also a great aid in defrosting colostrum as it thaws it within 20 minutes, by thawing at the ideal temperature 42C none of the immunoglobulins are destroyed – particularly appreciated for the calf born in the early hours of the morning.
From day three onwards the calves are reared on GLW Feeds ‘Lifetime’ Milk replacer. A milk powder consisting of 17% oil and 26% protein, which they feel specifically suits the requirements of Jersey and all diary calves. George says ‘We only use the highest quality ingredients in the milk powder which in turn results in a refined and highly soluble powder’. With Jersey calves having a higher body surface area to weight ratio, the quantity of milk solids consumed is crucial and not the volume of milk, thus the weight of powder fed and the quality of it should be prioritised. By a week to 10 days old the calves are drinking up to six litres of milk per day, consuming 1kg of powder, when they are then moved into groups of up to 10.
From then onwards they are reared on automatic calf feeders. Two machines dispense milk to the four feeding stations, one in each pen. Calves can visit the feeder several times throughout the day to drink, always receiving a measured quantity of milk that is mixed and dispensed at the ideal temperature. At this stage of 10 days old and over, the plane of nutrition is stepped up to 8 litres per day a 17% concentration of powder to liquid. Also added to the milk from birth is 10g per head per day of TFD, a powdered additive that Lyn explains ‘is packed full of goodies that help prevent any incidence of Coccidiosis, Crypto and Rotavirus’ and again helps maintain a healthy digestive and intestinal tract.
Dry feed is also introduced in the group pens ad-lib. Having fed both coarse ration and pellets in the past, they have looked at research from Holland about increased in takes from large pellet/nuts and calves are now fed on ‘GLW Lifetime Calf Starter Cudlets’ – a short cut 6mm diameter nut that optimises intakes. At 17.5% protein, amongst the cudlets ingredients are some natural anti-coccidiostats, some yeast and even more importantly some Butyrate. Butyrate is a Volatile Fatty Acid that is found naturally in the rumen and once absorbed it provides energy for papillae growth. In young calves Butyrate plays a key role in developing rumen papillae which in broad terms are the folds of the rumen wall across which nutrients are absorbed thus maximising the surface area. The addition in the feed at this early stage of life means rumen development reaches its full potential and results in an increased appetite and thus higher intakes. A feed hopper is situated in each pen, which allows a trickle of feed to be available continuously, with intakes stepped up gradually. As the calves progress towards weaning at 63 days the feeding curve on which the milk feeder is based will have reduced the amount of milk down to 2 litres per head all dispensed in a single feed per day, by this stage the calves are eating around 3.5kg of cudlets per head per day. Straw completes the diet and is provided in plentiful supply in racks over the groups. By weaning the calves are reaching their target weight of over 80kg. Mark says ‘the difference is already very noticeable, with weaned calves being several inches taller than those in previous years’. Post weaning the calves remain at the farm for around another month before moving five miles away, where they are housed until around a month before calving. From weaning right through to calving they are fed ‘GLW Cattle Rearer’ a similar formulation to the cudlets that is 10% protein with ad-lib straw.
From new born through to weaning the calves are housed in the relatively new young stock shed built in 2012. As already mentioned one of the biggest challenges is the Jersey’s size and keeping the calves warm is another detail they have focussed their attention towards. ‘An environmental temperature of 10C is considered thermo-neutral, once it drops below that the calf has to start and draw on valuable energy reserves to keep warm’ explains Lyn. In response to this challenge, newborn calves are fitted with an ‘Equafleece’ calf coat. A waterproof breathable fleece that helps maintain body temperature and on the really cold days heat lamps are available for the individual pens. In the groups, it is all about the calves creating their own micro-climate. Curtains on the side of the shed have ben a useful addition in really bad weather and the building is fitted with two fans that helps with air circulation in the draught free environment. Looking to the future the plan is to cover the floor with a layer of rubber matting, which will further insulate the shed and also provide added comfort and warmth.
Whilst still in the early stages, the Whiteoaks team have already observed a noticeable increase in the growth rates of calves as have the students from Nottingham Vet School who visit the farm regularly. Just as the increased amounts of feed being eaten is testament to the increased intakes. Routine weighing of the calves is carried out in order to monitor the daily live weight gains. Mark points out that when looking at some of the heifers they are so well grown now, they are big enough to bull, but on checking their age, he is holding off on until they reach around 13 months of age before serving them with sexed semen. When you consider the statistics that during the first 10-12 weeks of a calves life for every 1.25kg of feed they consume they should gain a kilo of weight and a calf is fifty times more efficient at converting feed than a two year old heifer, they further demonstrate how much potential there is to maximise growth in young stock. The team all agree that the calves are much healthier in themselves, with a low incidence of scours and ailments; in fact after working closely with Rose Jackson from Scarsdale Vet Practice – part of the XL Vet Group, they have cut the number of vaccinations they were administering to calves, down to a singe pneumonia vaccine given at two weeks of age, with a booster at six weeks. Calf mortality is well below 2% per annum. In conclusion it appears they are well and on the way to achieving their aim, with weaning weights and age at conception already on target for heifers calving at 22-24 months. It will be exciting to see if the first batch of calved heifers deliver what the research shows they should on paper – an additional 700 litres of milk in their first lactation and then going on to live a lactation longer than their predecessors, ‘We’d be happy with that’ says George. I am sure many other breeders would be too!