Use automatic feeders correctly or risk calf health farmers warned

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JUNE, 2019

Farmers who rear calves on automatic feeders are being advised to use them correctly or risk creating a cycle of infection that compromises health and performance.

The Bennett family, who run a herd of 320 mostly Holstein Friesians at Lower House Farm, Kempley, experienced serious issues with calf health when they switched to an automatic system for ease of feeding.

Outbreaks of cryptosporidium scour and mycoplasma meant it was impossible to budget growth rates and performance. The average age of heifers calving slipped to 24.5 months from 22. “We followed to the letter all advice from three experts in the calf field but the problems kept mounting, says Vicky, who farms with her husband, Jeremy, father-in-law, Glyn, and children, Evie and William. With support from Joe Murphy at Bonanza Calf Nutrition, they reverted to using Shine Once-a-Day replacer and have never looked back.

“The results were miraculous, for the first time in years calves were bright, alert, full of life and always relished their milk feed. They now have a zest of life!’’ says Vicky.

Calves receive 700g of Transformula daily from day 2 to day 11 before being introduced to Shine Once-a-Day. Transformula is designed to provide calves with the same nutrients and health promoting factors as contained in the milk cows produce immediately after colostrum and is seen as a method of controlling crytosporidium.

Calves at Lower House Farm are fed with a speedy teated feeder for 7 days and then moved to bucket feeding with no difficulty. The replacer the calves are fed alters to Shine Once-a-Day at day 11 with the volume fed increasing to 750g in two feeds to day 21. Calves are then fed 700g daily until weaning commences when calf weight reaches 90kg or they are 52-54 days old.

This transformation in health and performance followed a 30-minute discussion with Joe, who also highlighted the importance of using automatic feeders correctly. Computer feeders work well with healthy calves but are rendered almost redundant if cryptosporidium or mycoplasma get a foothold, he warns. “Extended milk feeding curves lead to more unweaned older calves per feed station and per shed. This increased calf shed stocking rate leads to higher infection load in the shed and eventually huge health and performance issues.’’

Joe gave the Bennetts advice on how to make the computer feeding system work as they continued with this policy for rearing their beef calves. “Automated computer feeding can be a disease treadmill. Jeremy and Vicky were putting pretty healthy calves in with infected calves at 12 days old and this infected more young animals so this had to stop,’’ he says. As a result of his advice, all healthy heifer replacements stayed in individual pens to prevent picking up disease from infected calves already on the machine. These calves are fed powder twice a day until they are fit to be grouped into batches of five and fed Shine Once-a-Day powder.

“This worked perfectly, heifer health and performance improved instantly,’’ says Joe. Heifers consistently hit liveweights of 90kgs at day 52-54. These are routinely fed Transformula for 10 days followed by Shine Once-a-Day until day 52-54 and are then weaned gradually over a 10-day period until day 63.

As a result of the changes introduced at Lower House Farm, the computer feeder now rears all beef calves
much more successively. Joe reduced the feed plan from 84 days to 70 – he felt the extra 14 days only increased stocking rates in confined shed space, reduced the rumen development that is needed for lifetime performance and wasted money on powder unnecessarily.

All performance targets in the Bennetts’ calves are now being met and they hardly remembers the names of the medications which were once an integral part of their calf rearing operation. “This reduction in medicine use alone gives us more peace of mind and significantly reduced vet bills,’’ says Vicky.

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