Giving calves the best possible start is an absolute priority for Ray and Bradley Moffett. The father and son team milk 80 cows close to Banbridge in Co Down. A recent investment in a new milking parlour and cubicle house has facilitated the move to a three-times-a-day milking regime.
They operate the farm in tandem with a livestock dealing and transport business, which is centred on the importation of pedigree dairy stock from countries around Europe for clients in the UK and Ireland.
Bradley takes up the story, “We have a mix of Holstein, Fleckvieh and Norwegian Red bloodlines in the herd at the present time. Our aim is to improve the genetics of the cows on the farm by breeding back to the best available bulls. We believe that cross breeding has a key role to play within the dairy industry.”
Ray is fully aware of the fact that effective calf rearing is vitally important within any dairy farming set-up, “Step one in this process is making sure that the newborns get plenty of colostrum within hours of birth. The calves are then placed in individual pens for a week, after which they are switched to a computerised feeding system. At this stage the calves are batched and maintained in straw bedded pens, which are draft free but, at the same time, provide plenty of fresh air.”
Prior to weaning the new arrivals are fed a combination of United Feeds’ Advance calf milk and Advance calfstarter pellets.
“The calf feeder is calibrated to feed 160g of powder per litre of milk drunk. This means that, on average, the calves consume about two bags of milk powder each up to weaning,” said Ray. “The milk is extremely palatable. In fact, the calves can’t get enough of it. The starter pellets are available, ad-lib, along with clean water from the get-go.”
Ray and Bradley are quick to admit that the milk powder feeding rate might seem quite high to some dairy farmers, “But the fact is they are showing for it,” Bradley confirmed.
“We have never had calves thrive so well on this farm since we switched to the Advance feeding system. We also keep the calves on the starter pellets for a considerable period of time beyond weaning. We aim to calve our heifers as close as possible to 24-months of age so it makes sense to get as much growth from calves and weanlings when they are more efficient at converting energy intake to liveweight gain”.
United Feeds’ Conor Cranny was a recent visitor to the Moffett farm who said “research has confirmed that calves reared to achieve a first-calving date of around 24 months will, invariably, stay in the milking herd for longer. It is also cheaper to rear heifers this way. Meeting this target means that heifers must achieve an average growth rate of 0.8kgs per day from birth through to first calving.”
He continued, “Optimum rumen development is key to a successful weaning process. Research has shown that increased concentrate intake will significantly enhance rumen development in young calves. This, in turn, will ensure that the animals will make optimal use of forages throughout their lives. Advance calf starter pellets contain Amaferm, which enhances fibre digestion helping accelerate rumen development in a number of different ways. Trials have shown that the inclusion of Amaferm in starter feed, increased starter intake at an earlier age, increased VFA production in the rumen and accelerated the development of the ruminal muscle. This led to weekly weight gain in the first five weeks being improved by up to 35%”.
Conor Cranny continued, “The Advance milk replacer is a skim-based product, containing the correct balance of proteins, amino acids, minerals and vitamins required by fast-growing calves. Also included in the specification is Greenline, a supplement designed to improve digestion as well as stimulating gut wall development and activating natural immunity, with the aim to reduce incidences of intestinal disorders and optimise growth rates. The flavour of the milk is linked to our Advance calf starter pellets which also contains Greenline, to encourage dry feed intake and stimulate the all-important rumen development.”