In April, more than 60 farmers congregated at Wedfield Farm, Pudford, home to Steve and Katherine Pomeroy and their 180 Holstein Friesians, to get expert advice from a number of local vets and youngstock nutrition experts.
The informative farm walk and practical workshop session was keenly anticipated and certainly delivered plenty of take-home advice on how to make the most of the modern dairy calf’s genetic potential.
Speaking to the group, Ian Watson, Global Technical Manager from Volac, stressed that heifer calves born today contain “the most genetic potential of any of the animals on your farm”. He explained: “These highly valuable calves represent the future production of your milking herd and will pay you back handsomely if reared correctly following proven recommendations. Whatever you do, don’t compromise by cutting corners”.
Another key point that Ian raised was the importance of udder development in heifer calves. He reminded the audience that while it’s not visible, the internal organ development in a young calf is what will lead to healthy and productive udders on their future heifers.
Highlighting the Volac ‘heifer roadmap’, he explained that calving heifers at 24 months of age is associated with increased cow survivability and lifetime milk yield, so this target should be every dairy farmer’s aspiration. He stressed that achieving this goal means feeding enough milk and other feed to deliver 800g of growth each and every day.
Ian also explained how important nutrition is from day one of a calf’s development - a calf’s feed efficiency is highest during its first few weeks of life, so it is essential to take advantage of that for it to achieve its optimal lifetime growth.
One of the final questions for the audience to consider was whether they were using the best milk replacer for their herd. Ian explained that the quality of your milk replacer is just as, if not more, important than the quantity you feed your calves. He went on to outline the benefits of a whey-protein-based milk replacer, rather than whey powder, and how it can benefit a calf’s growth.
Attendees at the farm walk also had the opportunity to hear from Torch Farm Vets, with three farm practitioners discussing various health issues and the value of genomics and oestrus synchronisation. In particular, farmers were urged to work closely with their vet over youngstock health issues and, crucially, to monitor performance against agreed targets.
“Work with your vet to find out how your calves and replacement heifers are performing currently – then set targets and continually measure how well you are doing. Remember, you can’t manage what you don’t monitor,” said Emily Linton MRCVS.
Vet Sophie Elworthy MRCVS explained that by using genomic screening of young heifers you can essentially double the reliability of your breeding policy:
“The use of genomics will help you decide which heifers to put to your best bull choices and which heifers to perhaps sell if you have a surplus,” she said.
Finally, vet Steph Prior MRCVS and Andy Tyre from Zoetis discussed the benefits of oestrus synchronisation:
“Aim for 40% of mature weight by 9 months for puberty, this will allow for heifers to cycle around three times prior to first service, which will increase fertility. If you aim for an age of first calving of 24 months you will need to start serving heifers around 13 months rather than starting at 15 months,” said Steph.
She added that the synchronisation of heifers can allow farms to increase their submission rate and can be useful for farms that struggle with heat detection in heifers.
Published on: 22 November 2022
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