Improved calf management lowers age at first calving
A focus on feeding and colostrum management will help reduce age at first calving to below 24 months at Carpenters Farm.
At the second meeting at Carpenters Farm, over 60 attendees toured the farm’s calf sheds to identify good practices as well as areas for improvement.
Joe Carter, who runs the farm with his Dad Irving, explained that their average age at first calving was just over 25 months with calves only reaching 63kg at 56 days, when they should be hitting double their birth weight of 43kg.
A lack of weight gain at the farm was put down to the calves scouring at 5 days old onwards due to rotavirus and a subsequent reduction in resistance to other infections. A vaccination programme was started in February, which has already made some improvement and it’s hoped that this will continue as immunity is bred into the herd.
The group praised the provision of clean water, deep beds, good airflow, group size and overall organisation and suggested areas to focus on including rigorous cleaning, isolating sick calves, resting sheds and blocking drafts in colder weather.
Retiring to the local village hall, Andy Dodd from the Farm Consultancy Group explained: ‘All the data shows you should calve at 24 months as every day over this will add an extra £2.87 per heifer. The average cost of rearing a heifer is £1,800 and Joe’s is coming in at £1,435 with his cost up to weaning at just over £500.
“Calf replacements are second biggest cost on farm and most people don’t know what they are so I suggest they use AHDB's heifer rearing cost calculator to find out.”
The group helped to narrow down the potential improvement areas to those that will have the biggest impact as Joe explains
“We’re going to look at the hygiene of our feeders, making sure they’re fully cleaned and disinfected. We’re sometimes milking cows 12 hours after calving, potentially losing colostrum quality so testing this at calving could establish if the problem lies with protocol or transition feeding. We tube feed four litres of colostrum as soon as possible after calving, but we’re going to look at using a teat feeder instead to prevent any damage from tubing.These changes along with serving the heifers at a younger age mean that our predicted age at first calving is now just under 23 months.”