Trials show higher weights in batches
BATCH rearing calves increases liveweight gain compared with rearing in individual pens.
That was the result of trials by Norfolk producer Roger Long. His business rears 4000 beef cross calves a year to sell at 12 weeks old to beef producers.
He compared individual with batch feeding systems six years ago at his Hillfields Farm, Scarning.
Calves batch reared gained an extra 6kg during the 10-day to seven-week stage compared with those reared in individual pens.
All his calves are now reared in batches of five, with four groups to each calf house.
"Management of batch-reared calves needs to be more vigilant, for you can see a calf scouring in a single pen quicker than in a group," says Mr Long.
But the benefits of batch rearing include better motivation to feed, so even a sick calf is encouraged to drink, preventing dehydration, he says.
The feeders are the most important part of his calf rearing system.
"Calves drink from the teats more easily than from a bucket and as the sucking action is more natural, the risk of milk entering the lungs or rumen is cut," he says.
The Wydale feeders also help reduce stress. Each has a moulding for the calfs head making it difficult for a calf to knock its neighbour off the teat. Separate hoppers also enable him to feed each individually, so smaller calves can be given more milk to push them on.
Feeders are washed out after each feed and once a week pressure washed with hot water. Two feeders bought six years ago have lasted well. Only the rubber teats and metal hooks have had to be replaced, says Mr Long.
He feeds calves a skim milk-based substitute twice a day for four weeks and then once a day until weaning at seven weeks.
Early weaning may save milk powder, he says, but that is not a cost-effective method of dealing with baby calves. They need a good start in life to perform well once they are sold, he claims.
He is careful to weigh the milk and uses a thermometer to check its temperature is about 40C (104F). "It is vital calves are fed at a constant temperature from day to day," he says.
For the first three weeks calves are offered hay alongside their milk after which time they eat barley straw from the bedding.
They are offered an 18% crude protein coarse calf ration. Mr Long buys the concentrate to ensure the formulation is consistent. He prefers the molassed coarse ration, as the calf can select something it likes the taste of to get it started on dry food.
When calves come on to the farm, they are seven to 10 days old. They are rested in clean yards overnight then fed with electrolyte the next day.
"The electrolyte is fed to clean out the calfs stomach. It is also more palatable than milk powder and prevents dehydration," he says. After feeding the calves are rested for a further two hours before they are split into batches and moved to clean pens. *
Roger Long… Securing individual attention but in batch-reared groups.