20 March 1998

OUTSIDE REARING FOR IRISH CALVES

When it comes to managing

calves, heifers, or cows at

grass the Irish are experts.

Jessica Buss reports

CALVES are reared outside to prepare them for a grass-based life on one unit in Co Limerick.

Pat OShaugnessy, Jointer Farm, Glin, rears 100 calves from his herd which calves in spring, between February and April, outside using multiple teated barrels mounted on a trailer. Feeding outside by this method means 90 calves can be fed milk quickly and cheaply – in just 20min, he maintains.

But calves must be drinking well before they enter the group of up to 35 calves, with a maximum age range of three weeks.

Calves are only put in the groups outside when about three weeks old. After birth they spend two or three days with their mother and are then put in individual pens and trained to drink from a teat. Training completed, they are grouped indoors and a barrel with teats is hung over the gate from which they are fed fresh cold milk. Once Mr OShaugnessy is sure they are drinking, he moves the calves outside.

Calf rearing in this way is very simple – you could have 100 calves together, he stresses. Its also better for calf health. "Turning out calves early means we dont suffer scour or pneumonia."

The barrels on his calf trailer are filled from two drums containing milk from the parlour. Milk is acidified by adding one carton of natural yogurt to the milk at the beginning of the season to start the process. Then a little milk is always left in the bottom of the two drums to keep the process going.

A little water is used to rinse the barrels and the calves suck it out. This is all the cleaning needed when the milk is acidified, says Mr OShaugnessy.

The 35 teats on the trailer provide the calves nine litres for four weeks in two feeds a day, after which time they are restricted to 4.5 litres a day until they are about 12 weeks old.

During this time calves receive no concentrate, but are allocated a fresh piece of grass every two or three days, fenced with two strands of electric wire. They are easy to move, even after weaning, because they follow the trailer, he adds. From 12 weeks old calves are rotationally block grazed, with a fresh piece of grass offered each day.

Concentrate is fed to calves in the December and January of their first winter with a maximum of 100kg a heifer fed in the two-year rearing period. They are rotationally grazed for most of the year, supplemented with silage in winter.

Pat OShaugnessy uses barrels, each fitted with several teats and mounted on a trailer to feed cold

milk to calves outside.