Boost calf daily live weight gain this summer with ad-lib feeding

Dairy farmers are being advised to consider ad-lib feeding this summer to boost dairy heifer calf growth and lifetime yield potential.

According to Clare Lawson, our Calf and Youngstock Product Manager, up to 1kg of daily live weight gain (DLWG) can be achieved using this type of feeding system when birth weights are at least 35kg.

“When calves feed naturally on the cow, they typically drink between 11 and 15 litres per day. Ad-lib mimics this instinct and can often lead to better growth rates than in a restrictive system.

“There’s also the added benefit that calves are fully weaned off milk on average four days earlier on ad-lib systems meaning feeding costs can be reduced.”

There is evidence to suggest that if calves achieve an extra 0.2kg DLWG in the first eight weeks, it can result in 500 extra kilos of milk in their first lactation.

“Therefore, if you are able to go above this and achieve up to 1kg of DLWG, this could pay dividends once these cows reach the milking herd,” she adds.

To optimise performance with the system, Clare recommends feeding a top-quality milk replacement powder.

The advice is bolstered by the latest LifeStart Science research that’s revealed calves provided with a consistent, high plane of nutrition via ad-lib milk feeding, experience benefits post weaning above those animals of the same genetic merit that are fed a lower plane of nutrition.

“Elevating the plane of nutrition pre-weaning not only leads to higher calf growth rates and improved heifer performance but can also result in long-term positive impacts on fertility, survivability and lactation performance providing a clear return on investment,” says Clare.

Farmers must also take steps to smooth the transition from milk to non-liquid diets to avoid a post-weaning growth check, which applies to both ad-lib systems and restrictive systems.

“Calves will need to be eating 1.5 to 2kg of starter feeds before milk is fully taken away. When feeding ad-lib, calves can be slowly weaned over ten days by gradually taking milk away for a certain period of the day, with the total milk feeding period becoming shorter over a set period of time.

It is advised that farmers contact their nutritionist if target calf growth rates are not being achieved, in order to review all aspects of calf management.

“Every farm is very different in its system, so we focus on working closely with the farmer and their vet when offering advice.

“As a team, we can maximise the pool of ideas and help identify the best solutions to try, bringing in suggestions from our knowledge and experience of other similar farms and from trial work,” concludes Clare.

Case study example

According to Rory Christie, who runs a spring block calving herd of 1,100 cross-bred milkers in South West Scotland, moving from a restrictive system to ad-lib feeding has resulted in significant improvements in daily live weight gain (DLWG) in the first eight weeks of life.

The higher DLWG promoted by the ad-lib system means Mr Christie is able to gradually wean calves and have them fully off milk by 52 days, compared with their previous average weaning age of 56 days. Individual calves regularly achieve 0.97kg DLWG based on 35kg birth weight.

“Those early weeks of life are the most important and, if we get it right, heifer calves have an increased chance of being more successful cows. For us, it’s about meeting lifetime weight and yield targets and calf live weight gain,” explains Mr Christie.

Discussions with his nutritional specialist at Carr’s Billington prompted Mr Christie to think further about overall calf health, development and their lifetime potential.

“We moved to a high-spec milk powder which has worked well so far in the ad-lib system. We have reared calves successfully on whole milk in the past but switching to a powder is one of a number of measures we’ve taken to help protect against Johne’s in the herd. Powder can also provide more consistent milk quality, ease of management and, in theory, it can be cheaper, depending on your system and how you decide to account for that.

“There is no question that you have to pick a high-quality milk powder to get results; it should be one that suits you and you feel is value for money.”

“The powder we use, Vitality, part of Carr’s Billington’s energized calf milk range, is balanced in a way that calves can take a lot of milk and not suffer from any nutritional scour, so we’ve been able to increase intakes and growth significantly while maintaining the same good health as before,” Mr Christie adds.

Fertiliser spreader checks should be prioritised to reap financial rewards

Dairy farmers are being advised to consider ad-lib feeding this summer to boost dairy heifer calf growth and lifetime yield potential.

Farmers not checking fertiliser spreaders pre-application could be losing up to £100 per hectare.

This is the stark warning from Dale Shaw, our Machinery Sales Manager at Carr’s Billington.

“With input prices on the rise across the board farmers need to be considering how they can make small improvements on-farm to reduce the impact of volatile prices we are all currently seeing.

“Fertiliser prices are only going one way at the moment, but this is where you can reap the rewards if attention to detail is made a priority. Efficient fertiliser use and making the most of home-grown forage could go a long way this year,” he says.

As producers plan second cut silage, Dale suggests that in addition to considering when to spread fertiliser and the best product to use, producers should take the time to check over machinery before getting back out in the field.

“As with all machinery there will be various components that are susceptible to wear. Make sure you are confident that the agitator is working effectively and capable of ‘shaking’ the fertiliser down through the hopper.

“More often than not, the shutters on fertiliser spreaders are now electric. This can mean they are prone to issues, so test these to ensure they are opening and closing correctly to support flow rates.

“Likewise check over the discs and vanes for any signs of wear and replace these if necessary. Although investing in replacement parts can be costly, the cost of over or under spreading could be even more considerable in terms of the yield gained,” he explains.

Dale adds that once these checks have been done, calibrating the spreader to the product choice is important. “Don’t assume that all fertilisers have the same application settings as this is not the case. Different fertilisers will flow at different rates out of the machine. Check the fertiliser bags for the right information.

“Once you have set-up the spreader, consider doing a quick check in the yard. Remove one of the discs from the machine and replace with an adaptor. Place a bucket underneath the spreader and start the engine to simulate field conditions. Run it for 30 seconds collecting the fertiliser in the bucket.

“Weigh the fertiliser that has been collected and calculate how many kilograms should be coming from the spreader per minute. This should correlate with the fertiliser application settings and if there are differences you may have to make adjustments to the regulator to compensate. Modern machinery will be able to do much of this for you, however there is no harm in taking the time to double check.

“Ultimately you want your machinery to be applying product as accurately as possible to maximise yields – whether that’s grass yields, daily live weight gain or milk yields. Without taking the time to check over your machinery and get it set up properly, how do you know if applications rates are right, grass is getting the right nutrition and your money isn’t, quite literally, being flushed down the drain?”

Preparation key to successful grass growth this spring

With grass reseeding costing anywhere between £370 – £500/ha, it is important preparatory steps are taken now to realise the benefit of the investment this spring.

Alex Law, our Grassland and Forage crop Product Manager at Carr’s Billington, advises that prioritising what leys to reseed, in what order is key.
“This comes down to the results of a soil sampling report and having a clear understanding of how a new ley will be beneficial,” he says.

Soil sampling

“A soil sample report will determine the suitability of the area you want to reseed. For optimal growing conditions you ideally want a soil pH between 6-6.5, and phosphorus and potassium levels at an index of two to ensure nutrients are readily available for root growth.

“Although grass will germinate if soil conditions aren’t favourable, you should aim to focus on areas that have shown the most conducive results. This will ensure you have the best chance of growing healthy, highly productive swards and will help to reduce extra establishment costs,” explains Alex.
He also notes that areas with less favourable soil conditions can be repaired and reseeded at a later date.

Establish your goal

Alex adds that reseeding should be modelled to individual farm requirements including the selection of grass varieties.
“Only a proportion of farm may need to be reseeded to reach a particular productivity target, whether it be for grazing livestock or silage. As a general guideline, it’s advised a minimum of 10% is reseeded per year to sustain grass quality.

“However, this percentage will depend on many factors such as topography and your farm system,” he says.
He notes that considering other factors such as height above sea level, average rainfall and how long you want a field to be in grass for will also have an impact on how reseeding should be approached, and which grass varieties would be most appropriate.

“A successful reseed will pay back faster so it is very much worth putting initial preparation time into getting the results you are aiming for,” concludes Alex.
For copies of Carr’s Billington Grass and Forage Manual or advice on reseeding contact your local branch or farm-based consultant.