Farmer Focus: Cold takes it toll on dairy heifer calves

Normally at this time of year things are starting to get very busy on the farm. However, with the recent bad weather very little fieldwork has been done to date.

Slurry has been applied to some of the drier fields on the farm, but others are just still too wet.

The only good thing about this winter has been the lack of frost and an easterly wind, which means grass has hardly been set back at all.

Urea has been applied at 125kg/ha and should hopefully kick-start growth with the warm, damp weather.

See also: More articles from Thomas Steele

It would be nice to get some of the lower-yielding cows out grazing to take the pressure off forage supplies, but conditions need to improve before we can do this.

The fluctuations in temperature and the rain have been taking their toll on the very young calves.

All heifer calves are bucket reared in individual pens until about three or four weeks of age and then placed into groups of ten to 12.

Our calf accommodation is old, but generally works fine. Except lately we have noticed some of the calves nearest to the main door were not thriving as well as the rest.

I’d seen that people had been using calf coats to help keep calves warm despite the cold draughts during temperature blips. But, I was unsure which ones to buy and also which ones offered value for money.

A quick post on Twitter and about ten minutes later I knew everything there was to know about calf coats.

It’s great to have this source of information at our fingertips with honest useful advice. It makes the world seem a small place. I’d far rather buy a product or service on the strength of a recommendation from a farmer than a sales pitch from the company rep.

The coats are a great quick fix, but what we really need is new calf rearing/young stock housing.

Yet again I find myself with another item to add to the never ending wishlist.

Thomas Steele milks 450 Holstein Friesian cows on a 263ha farm in Co Down, Northern Ireland. He was 2012 Farmers Weekly Dairy Farmer of the Year

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