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Careful management of dry food intakes is helping a Derbyshire farm achieve exceptional performance from dairy bull calves with no growth checks around weaning. How to avoid post-weaning growth checks in calves

Careful management of dry food intakes is helping a Derbyshire farm achieve exceptional performance from dairy bull calves with no growth checks around weaning.

Andy and Sue Collins finish around 60-80 dairy bull calves annually on an intensive system at Park Farm, Stanley. Finished cattle are sold at 12-13 months. Calves are usually purchased direct from local dairy farms at 2-3 weeks old, says Mrs Collins.

“We use an Energized Calf Milk twice a day and feed six litres per calf, except in cold weather when we increase this to seven litres but keep the concentration the same. We are looking for calves to double their arrival weight by the time they are weaned.”

Energy supply

Calves are mainly Holsteins with a few Montbeliardes and Brown Swiss. Mrs Collins is looking for intakes of around 0.5kg/day of concentrates at four weeks old, gradually increasing to close to 1kg/day at six weeks.

Weaning starts at around seven weeks old when calves move onto once a day milk feeding to ensure dry feed intakes are adequate to maintain total energy supply. Milk is stopped when intakes of dry feed are 2kg/day.

Massey Feeds ruminant specialist Richard Ford says new high-quality milk replacers mean dairy and dairy cross calves can achieve excellent growth pre-weaning.  However, the momentum can be lost if energy intakes drop resulting in a growth rate check.

Calves face considerable challenges around weaning which can increase the risk of a growth check, explains Mr Ford. The first is a change in the source of energy from milk to solid feeds, he adds.

Solid feed

A three-week old calf receives almost 100% of the energy intake from milk but this proportion reduces as the intake of solid feed increases.  At weaning, 100% of energy will come from solid feed and forage, making high dry food intakes critical.

“At the same time, we change the energy pathway to the calf,” Mr Ford continues. “In milk replacers, the energy source is predominantly glucose.

“Post-weaning the energy source is Volatile Fatty Acids (VFAs) from rumen fermentation.  So not only are we changing the source of energy, but we
are also changing the source at a time when the rumen is developing.”