Calves reared on Transformula weaning a week earlier in spring calving system



A dairy farmer who rears both heifer replacements and beef calves is weaning a week earlier after feeding a specially formulated milk powder during the transition period.

John Murphy is a busy man running a 150-cow Holstein Friesian herd at Donoughmore, County Cork, Ireland, rearing more than 85% of all calves, including the beef animals which he takes through to finishing. He used sexed semen on his cows for calving 2019 and so with his 25 Holstein-Friesian heifer replacements, his calves are now mostly by an Aberdeen Angus or Hereford sire. The last 10 to 15% of his calves are sold at approximately 4 weeks of age.

John has a heavy workload, carrying out majority of the work himself and was looking for a way to make things easier without compromising calf health and growth. This led to feeding milk powder through an automatic feeder which he installed in 2015 after investing in a new purpose-built shed.

After some experience with the machine John wanted to reduce the risk of disease and began feeding calves Transformula from day three.

This milk powder, manufactured by Bonanza Calf Nutrition, is made from specific low heat skimmed milk, sweet whey, buttermilk and vegetable oils and includes a range of natural plant extracts, yeasts and specific proteins to help prevent infective and digestive upsets.

He says his calves have thrived on Transformula – it means he can transfer them to the machine one week earlier and he is weaning them a week earlier too.

“They are the healthiest calves I have,’’ he says.

Once calves are weaned they have access to ad-lib meal and straw until they are turned out to graze.

At grass, calves get a daily allowance of 2kg/day until June and graze silage aftermaths once first cut is taken in May.

From June, they consume only grazed grass until they are housed in November when they receive 2kg of supplementary feed until they are turned out in spring.

For their second grazing season, they are fed only grass.

John says all replacement heifers achieve target weights for breeding with ease.

At 18–20 months, beef heifers are finished receiving no meal from the beginning of the second grazing season until approximately five weeks before finishing.

“There is nothing that will beat a good start for the calf,’’ says John. “I am very relieved to have Transformula.’’

He has also been delighted with the advice he has received from Dr Christine Cummins, Technical Manager at Bonanza Calf Nutrition.

She initially stepped in to help in 2016 when calves reared on the feeder didn’t thrive as John had expected.

He turned to Bonanza to supply his milk replacer needs, purchasing from Dan Donovan & Co Ltd, at Berrings and supported by Dr Cummins.

On the new system and before John started using Transformula, calves received colostrum followed by transition milk for 10 days before being trained to drink milk replacer from the feeder.

On advice from Dr Cummins, he installed canopies for the calves as the shed was tall, there were no solid barriers between pens, and the calves were cold.

The visible impact on the calves was almost instant. “Calves are smart, you could see them lying under it on the cold days,” said John.

“Never overlook simple things, a small change can make a big difference, as it did on John’s farm” said Christine.

Dr Cummins was also able to advise on a complication with the water system – after milking a large draw on the water supply affected the supply to the feeder and resulted in calves receiving inconsistent concentrations of the milk power feed, leading to some cases of bloat.

“This is a very common issue with machine-fed calves, it is important not to underestimate the draw of water that comes around milking time with so much going on such as machine washing, cooling system and cows drinking,’’ Christine explained.

With these issues resolved and the subsequent addition of Transformula, John’s calves are thriving like never before.

“I am very happy with the good service I have received from Bonanza Calf Nutrition and Christine, a good service is worth a lot to me,’’ he says.

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“They are the healthiest calves I have,’’ he says.

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