Posted on 2018-04-12 11:46:00
An ex-sheep farmer turned dairy farmer is taking up new technology in a bid to improve the work routine and boost growth rates in his Spring born heifers. Nick Davis farms 700 acres at 1100 -1400 ft near Llandrindod Wells, Radnorshire.
All calves from his crossbred cows are kept, with bull calves moving on at 2-3 weeks old, and heifers reared on milk until weaning at 10 weeks old. The traditional sheep sheds lend themselves to group rearing with 30 per Heatwave Milk Warmer and 15 per pen. In his first block calving in 2015, Nick tried the ‘traditional’ block-calving method of restricted feeding with a milk trailer surrounded by teats, and also tried trough feeding, but found management difficult as calves either drank too much in one feed, or too little.
Finally, he has settled for a more ‘natural’, ad lib system where the calves take warm milk, ‘little and often’ as they would on the cow. His results for 2017 are very impressive; 475 calves born and 473 reared, with only one treated for scour.
Nick has adapted the system to suit his facilities. The system centres on the Heatwave Milk Warmer from Pyon Products. There are 9 of these small versatile machines throughout the calf shed, running on standard 3 pin plugs. In 2017 all machines had a standard 3kw element which was putting a strain on the electricity supply, so after consulting the manufacturers, he converted them to a 1kw.This still keeps the Heatwave warm but the thermostat clicks in more often to keep the heat exchanger working. The original Peach teats from his trailed feeder were recycled, putting these at the end of the 4 lines. Finally, he wanted to feed colostrum and transition milk through the Heatwave milk warmer. The manufacturers do not normally recommend transition milk through the feeder as it can clog the lines, but with his ‘can do’ attitude, Nick found a way around this and blows the lines out regularly with a portable air compressor which keeps the milk flowing.
After the first week on transition milk the calves gradually change over to ad lib milk powder which is mixed in the milk tanker and pumped across into the 200L barrels. The calves are grouped according to size, 15 to a pen until 3-4 weeks old with 2 pens per Heatwave machine. After this time they move to 20-25 per pen. Nick reports that the calves are bigger and healthier on this system and the surge in growth in the first few weeks of life means they will easily reach target weights at bulling. During the 10 week calving the adlib system flattens out the peak labour demand at milking times. It allows more time for calves to be looked after between milkings as the calves have warm milk available 24 hours a day.
As with any calf rearing system, a good dose of colostrum (10% of bodyweight) in the first few hours of life, transition milk for 5 days, good stockmanship, a good environment and plenty of good quality milk powder are the key to success.