Calf-rearing systems on dairy farms and specialist calf rearing units: results of a New Zealand

Abstract: Calf-rearing practices were surveyed on 297 dairy farms with an average of 82 heifer and 24 bull calves reared. Only 21% of the properties fed colostrum immediately on arrival at the dairy shed, and 30% did not feed their calves for at least 8 hours after pickup. Rearing systems were highly variable although most fed twice a day on high milk volumes. Many (40%) did not know
how much milk they fed to their calves and for those who did, the average was 316 litres per calf. Calves were weaned off milk at an average of 9.7 weeks.

Calf-rearing practices were surveyed on 100 bull-calf-rearing properties rearing on average 259 calves annually. Larger rearers (>600 calves) tended to feed whole milk whereas smaller rearers tended to feed calf-milk replacers. Most rearers fed milk once a day and fed an average of 155 litres/calf over rearing. Calves were weaned at an average of 6.5 weeks. Bullcalf rearers feed to a weight target and a budget which resulted in a greater focus on performance and feed costs. Dairy farmers could significantly reduce both costs and time inputs by monitoring performance, feeding milk once a day and weaning earlier.

Introduction:  A significant amount of beef (~65%) is produced from the dairy industry as cull cows, dairy heifers and bull beef (Schreurs et al. 2014). Typically, dairy heifers are reared within dairy farms and bull calves on-sold for rearing within the bull-beef industry. Whilst there is anecdotal evidence of differences between the two systems, this has never been quantified. Phone surveys were carried out to examine calf-rearing practices on dairy farms and specialist calf-rearing units.


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