Too much liquid milk replacer is often fed to calves literally flooding the gut and developing rumen and stifling the infant animal’s drive to seek out and move on to dry feed.
That’s according to Seth Wareing, Keenan’s UK beef specialist, who told producers a smaller volume would serve calves better. “When you think about it we’d feel the same. At the Calf Company just two litres of water containing 500g of replacer is fed once early in the day alongside a dry feed and fresh water.”
Initially calves are offered an 18% crude protein nibbler pellet before gradually introducing a home-produced rearing mix (see table below). “It’s nothing fancy, just what’s on most farms and gives the calf what it needs – fibre, sugar and protein.”
kg/t of 16.5% CP mix)
Barley (split not rolled)
“The key is the fibre. Chop it to muzzle width – that’s 5cm for young calves and 8cm for older rearing calves. Like us, the calf would like to pick out the goodies and leave the fibre so it’s important to get chop length right.”
Although the Calf Company uses a TMR mixer wagon to prepare the stable feed – roughly 84% dry matter that can be bunkered for three days without spoiling – other options were open to producers. “At 60kg/t of mix – 6% – the fibre is a small but vital ingredient.
“Use straw chopper, bedders, whatever’s available get chop length right,” he suggested.
By weaning at about eight weeks old calves should be eating 1.5kg a head a day of the dry feed. By that time continental bull calves are putting on 1.1kg a head a day and continental heifers and black and white bulls just under 1kg, he said.
Calf Company Performance
DLWG at 11wks old
FCE (kg DLWG from 1t DM feed)
Cost p/kg LWG
“Although these calves are destined for beef units I would treat replacement heifer calves exactly the same. It is much cheaper to get weight into a calf in the early months than later in life so a good start always pays dividend,” he told producers.
“At £111/t fresh-weight the mix is a cheap feed – a lot cheaper than a bought-in compound or pellet.”
To avoid growth checks when transferring calves from Pool Head Farm to beef rearing units, owner Alan Barrow encourages buyers to replicate the mix. “It’s a time of stress for the animal so keep as many things, especially the feed, the same to minimise a check in growth,” he advised.
Read more from the Calf Company/Keenan Open Day• Simple routine boosts calf liveweight at Pool Head Farm
• Too much milk replacer can stifle calf development