Time4Calving: Our Guide To Dairy Calf Management

dairy cow management

It is crucial dairy calves are managed correctly to help reduce the incidence of disease. Poor health could negatively impact growth rates and their ability to meet the ideal 24 months calving target.

Read our handy checklist of factors that should be considered when rearing calves to give them the best possible start below:

HOUSING

Whether calves are housed in sheds, hutches or igloos, it’s vital their environment is carefully managed.

Stocking density

Overstocking calves will reduce the amount of airspace per animal and potentially increase the number of bacteria circulating in the air, leading to a higher risk of disease transmission. Upsizing pens from 2.3m2 to 4.1m2, for example, can reduce the total bacterial count by half.

Pen Size Requirements:

Many assurance schemes determine the minimum space requirement for calves.  As a rough guide we recommend:

  • A minimim of 1½ m2  per calf for calves less than 60kg (Newborn)
  • A minimum 3m2  per cald when they get towards weaning
  • A minimum of 4m2 – 5m2 after weaning

Top Tip:  Grouping same age calves together, in a pen or shed, will also help to reduce disease occurrence and transmission.

Ventilation

Making sure calf housing is adequately ventilated with a constant flow of air is important. This will eliminate the amount of dust, contaminants, and pathogens that calves are exposed to, thereby reducing the risk of respiratory diseases such as pneumonia.

Adequate ventilation will also keep the environment at an ambient temperature and prevent calves from having to use valuable energy to keep warm. However, we should avoid air flow greater than 0.5 metres per second as this can cause calves to become too cold.

Bedding

Bedding should be kept as dry as possible, as exposure to high levels of ammonia (<25 parts per million) can irritate calves’ mucous membranes and leave them more vulnerable to respiratory disease.

Straw is an ideal material for calf bedding, especially in the winter, as calves can nestle into it. This helps them to keep warm, meaning they are less susceptible to disease, and more likely to hit target growth rates.

Use the nesting score scale to help determine how much straw to provide your calves with. Aim for a nesting score of three, where calves’ legs are completely covered when lying down.

Nesting score scale

nesting score

Avoid blowing straw or sawdust into calf housing as this creates dust which can irritate the respiratory tract and mucous membranes. This irritation can lead to permanent lung damage and increase the risk of respiratory disease.

Drainage

It is important to consider the drainage within calf sheds or pens. Ideally, flooring should be pitched at a 5% gradient to allow urine and water to freely drain away. The more moisture that is retained in the building, the more heat will be drawn out and the colder the building will feel.

CALF COATS

Calf coats can be used to keep calves warm in colder weather.

Consider using coats on newborn to one week old calves when temperatures are below 12oC. At this temperature and below, young calves will start to use valuable energy to keep warm, preventing growth and development.

For older calves, a farm protocol should be agreed on when coats should be used e.g. after three consecutive nights below 10oC.

Top tip: Make sure calves are dry before putting coats on and that they are cleaned from previous use. Jackets should also be taken off in the morning, once temperatures allow, rather than the afternoon. This is to allow calves to acclimatise to temperatures without the jacket, whilst the temperatures are typically higher than they are at night.

BIOSECURITY

On-farm livestock biosecurity protocols are especially important when it comes to calves to reduce disease incidence and poor performance. Three key areas to consider are:

Staff

Make sure farms have established on-farm biosecurity protocols which all staff follow.

Additionally, remember bacteria can be brought into calf housing via boots, hands, and clothes. Boots and hands should therefore be washed and disinfected and, ideally, clothes changed or overalls worn before dealing with calves after being with other cattle.

Equipment

Feed buckets should be cleaned and disinfected after use to minimise a build-up of bacteria. Here is an example of an equipment cleaning routine:

  • RINSE: Use water at 32-38oC to remove dirt and milk residues. Do not rinse with HOT water. This causes proteins and fats to stick to surfaces, creating a breeding ground for bacteria
  • SOAK: Use hot water 54-57oC mixed with chlorinated alkaline detergent (hypo chloride) for 20-30 minutes each time
  • SCRUB: Use long handled brushes and gloves to remove any remaining residue
  • WASH: The water must be higher than 49oC, to remove the residue scrubbed off
  • RINSE: Use acid sanitiser (peracetic acid) as this lowers the environment pH to prevent remaining bacteria growing
  • DRY: Moist conditions are ideal for bacterial growth, so raise the equipment onto drying racks to allow drainage. Hang stomach tubes vertically to drain out. DON’T stack buckets or leave to dry upside down on concrete floors

Pens

Pens should be cleaned, disinfected, and bedded regularly, ideally between changes in calves.

Individual pens should be mucked out and disinfected once a calf has been moved out of it, whilst group pens should be cleaned once the group has moved into new housing.

If calves are staying in their allocated housing for more than a few weeks at a time, pens should be cleaned out regularly and washed/disinfected when calves can be moved to another area.

Steam cleaning calf housing with calves still in can be detrimental to calf health, as the moisture in the shed can make the atmosphere cold and increase the risk of respiratory disease.

Time4Formulating: Autumn Dairy Cow Diets

Autumn Dairy cow Diets

You’ll likely already know that balancing nutritional intakes of a dairy herd, while maintaining health and yields, is a priority for all farmers during the autumn.

As cows settle on to winter rations, diet changes need to be gentle and gradual to avoid impacting on rumen stability, health and performance. A gradual change will also have a positive impact on the digestive utilisation of vital homegrown forages, helping keep on top of bought-in feed quantities.

To help you successfully transition into autumn/winter, our experts are here with their practical top tips:

Assess silage stocks

Brought-in feed is the most expensive aspect of milk production (up to 40% of total costs) so maximising the use of home-grown bulk fodder is often the lowest cost option for housed cows. However, it’s important to analyse the quality of this forage on a regular basis to optimise nutrient utilisation and rumen function, and to balance winter feed plans as there can be significant variation as you work back through each cut/clamp.

As a rough guide a 650kg Holstein cow in milk will eat around 20 – 24kg dry matter per day.  Of this around 50% should be forage. The dry matter of the silage will determine how much fresh weight of silage they will eat in a day. This season we have seen a wide range of dry matter in grass silage, from below 20% to over 50%. 

Once the quality of forage is determined using the analysis results, shortfalls in nutritional requirements can be balanced using custom blends or compounds, that suit your farm system and milk contract, and adapted over time as forage quality and fermentation characteristics change.

Additionally, the best or poorest quality forage can be allocated to different cows within the herd, depending on their needs. For example, far off dry cows will need to be fed a maintenance diet that provides minimal but adequate energy. This means they can be fed more mature forages that have a low digestibility value.

Silage quantities should also be assessed to ensure calculations can be made as to how far it will stretch over the housing period to help determine whether forage replacers need to be purchased. 

feed

Consider buffers and yeasts

It takes the microflora in the rumen three weeks to adjust to ration changes, meaning digestion won’t be as efficient as it should be during this time.

Instability in the rumen environment and microbial population can also reduce feed intakes, leading to a decline in performance and butterfat levels.

It’s therefore worth considering incorporating a yeast or rumen conditioner such as TechTonic™ into the ration during this nutritional transition period.

Both will help support rumen function and stability, prevent issues such as subacute ruminal acidosis (SARA), and support better feed conversion efficiency (FCR).

  • Yeasts improve the conditions in the rumen by stimulating the growth and activity of forage digesting bacteria
  • Rumen buffers help to re-establish rumen pH within the ideal range of 5.8-6.2
vitalyx

Support immunity

Sufficient levels of minerals and vitamins in the right balance need to be fed for performance and immunity.

If you choose to use supplementary products, such as licks, blocks or powders when formulating feed rations, it’s important to choose those that have been created to industry standards and comply with Maximum Permitted Levels. This will reduce the risk of excess intakes which in turn can cause health issues.

For example, high intakes of copper can cause chronic copper toxicity leading to a significant reduction in milk production or death. Don’t kill with kindness!

For more information on managing diet changes as cattle are housed, contact your local on-farm specialist or dairy nutritionist.

Carr’s Billington joins forces with industry to help bust GHG myths 

We have joined forced with the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) and other industry stakeholders to help highlight accurate facts about greenhouse gas emissions from the sector ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow at the end of October (31st Oct).

The aim is to help inform everyone of the actual levels of greenhouse gas contributions coming from the dairy industry and dispel many of the current myths. Therefore, the sector asks individuals, key industry stakeholders, businesses, and organisations to promote five key facts internally and to the broader public before, during, and after COP26.

It is anticipated UK agriculture will come under the spotlight at COP26, which is why it is important to shout about the good work the dairy industry is doing to reduce emissions from what is already quite a low level.

“If everyone can share just one fact on social media, in their company newsletter, to a friend or in a conversation, for example, then that is at least one extra person that is better informed about emissions from the dairy industry.”

Jim McRobert, Area Sales and Technical Manager

The facts being highlighted include:

  1. UK Dairy farming is responsible for less than 3% of the UK’s total emissions.
  2. 46% – Almost half of the emissions coming from the dairy cow is from their digestion- a perfectly natural process of ruminants.
  3. It takes 8 litres of tap water to produce 1 litre of milk or 158 litres of tap water to produce 1 litre of almond drink.
  4. The carbon footprint of a litre of British milk is around 1.25kg CO2e compared to a global average of 2.9kg CO2e per litre.
  5. UK dairy cows are some of the most climate friendly in the world. There are 278 million dairy cows worldwide. If they were all as efficient as UK dairy cows, we WOULD ONLY NEED AROUND 76 MILLION of them to produce the same amount of milk.

The RABDF has produced draft social media posts, newsletter snippets, visuals and posters that are free to copy and paste from their website at rabdf.co.uk/emissions.

RABDF Managing Director Matt Knight said: “We want to make it as easy as possible for people to spread the good work of the dairy industry and reinforce the fact dairy products aren’t only good for human health, they are also good for the planet too.”

For your free visuals, social media posts and more on greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy sector, please visit www.rabdf.co.uk/emissions

New Complete Nutritional Supplement Range

vita range launch

Farmers set to benefit from launch of new complete nutritional supplement range

In a bid to help support farming livelihoods more sustainably, We at Carr’s Billington has developed our own-brand range of premium quality nutritional supplements.

Founded on the need for a more simple and effective means of ensuring animals have what they need when they need it, the complete range of feedblocks, powdered minerals, and mineral and feed buckets have been specially designed to help address the wide range of production challenges faced by beef, sheep, and dairy farmers at different times of the year.

Chrissie Smith, mineral and feed supplements product manager here at Carr’s Billington, says the new Vitamix, Vitalyx and Vitablox ranges are testament to the company’s team and their longstanding relationships with farmers.

“The technical team have worked closely with farmers to develop a solution based range, bringing together the latest proven technology, capable of further supporting livestock growth, production and reproductive performance,” she explains.

“We’ve also taken a positive leap forward in terms of sustainability with this new range, manufacturing the products nearby using high quality ingredients that are sourced locally wherever possible.”

These nutritional supplements are intended for supplementing grazing, silages and home-grown feeds, making better use of what’s grown on farm whilst balancing forage deficiencies.

“Farmers have the option of choosing between three ranges which are most appropriate for their systems, livestock, and business goals”.

vitalyx

The Vitalyx mineral and feed bucket range

Can be offered to livestock as fed free access, providing a continuous nutrient supply 24/7 on a little and often basis, which is a cost-effective and time-efficient means of supplementation.

The Vitamix powdered mineral range

Is also available as free-access or in-feed, helping to ensure all key micronutrients are supplied at the correct levels to maximise stock performance. We’re also pleased to announce this has been packaged using at least 30% reclaimed plastic.”

vitamix

Finally, Chrissie explains

vitablox

The Vitablox feedblock range

Is packed with key nutrients including Sulphur, B vitamins, chelated zinc, and organic selenium. This also contains locally sourced Scottish distillers’ dark grains as well as Carr’s Billington’s own rumen by-pass protein, AminoMax-M™ incorporating British rape.

“Fundamentally, our new complete and yet streamlined range of products have been developed to help fulfil livestock nutrient requirements during vital periods within the farming calendar, such as tupping time and autumn calving time.

“As a business, we also want to help our customers continue to achieve their goals while also working towards a more sustainable future. Providing products from sources they can trust is a critical part of this,” she concludes.

Donations to WellChild top £45,000

Donations to WellChild top £45,000

Carr’s Billington raises £45,000 for children’s charity, despite one of the most challenging years for fundraising.

For the past six years, We at Carr’s Billington has been using the sale of the unique purple bale wrap as an opportunity to raise much needed funds for WellChild, a national charity that supports seriously ill children throughout the UK.

Kate Acutt, senior fundraiser at WellChild, thanked the staff and customers at Carr’s Billington for their ongoing support, particularly during this past year.

“In April 2020, we were projecting a 60% loss in income, mainly from the postponement or cancellation of key fundraising events. We’ve worked hard to find new and innovative sources of funding to meet the sudden surge in demand from the families we support, who have been particularly vulnerable during this time,” she explains.

“WellChild relies almost entirely on voluntary donations to ensure the delivery of our services across the UK. The support from Carr’s Billington’s purple bale wrap sales is so important to us because not only does the campaign raise significant sums to support our vital work, but the quirky and fun campaign has raised fantastic awareness of the charity and how we support families. This includes providing giant emoji stickers to be used on the wrap so that the bales are really eye catching for passers-by.”

So far this year, 700 rolls of purple wrap has been sold across the country, and for every roll purchased, £5 is donated to WellChild. In normal years, staff and customers also participate in other fundraising activities, like golf days and charity walks.

“Although we haven’t been able to host any of our in-person fundraising events, we were determined to still provide as much support to WellChild as possible,” explains Mark Cole, managing director at Carr’s Billington.

“I’d like to personally thank all of our customers who have made this possible by continuing to buy the purple wrap and support this phenomenal cause. We can all be extremely proud of what we have achieved to date and I look forward to progressing this in the future.”

For more information, or if you’d like to find out more about the purple wrap, contact your local Carr’s Billington representative or call 08000 234416.

wellchild wrap
wellchild stack
wellchild wrapped

About WellChild

www.wellchild.org.uk

WellChild is the national charity for seriously ill children and their families. More than 100,000 children and young people are living across the UK with serious health needs. Through a nationwide network of children’s nurses working within the NHS, bedroom and garden transformation projects and family training, information and support services, WellChild exists to give this growing population of children and young people the best chance to thrive – properly supported at home instead of hospital, together with their families.

With less than 2% of income coming from statutory sources, WellChild is wholly reliant on the support of individuals and organisations. The COVID-19 outbreak has seen the charity lose up to 60% of projected income as fundraising events and activities are cancelled or postponed. To make a donation, visit wellchild.org.uk/donate

A Guide To Improving Ewe Fertility

guide to improving ewe fertility

Pre-tupping flock management 

It is recommended that optimum ewe body condition is maintained by managing and monitoring flock BCS all-year-round, with a particular focus at specific points in the year such as pre-tupping.

This is for a number of reasons: 

  • Ewes have an underlying four-to-five-month follicle maturation cycle so nutrition and BCS have an influence on ovulation rates for up to six months before tupping 
  • If ewes receive below maintenance level of nutrition in the six weeks pre-tupping, there is a risk to early foetal development 
  • The loss of too much body condition can affect future fertility and offspring fertility

It is also worth noting that feeding legumes, red clover or silage 45 days before and after tupping should be avoided to prevent ovarian function being compromised.

As part of your pre-tupping management, make sure you don’t overlook your rams. Consider giving them a health MOT to ensure they are in optimal condition to avoid potential fertility issues.  

guide improving ewe

Leaner ewe management  

Leaner ewes (with a BCS of 2 or less post-weaning), or ewes that don’t reach their target BCS six weeks pre-tupping should have their nutritional intakes increased gradually to achieve optimum BCS at mating. 

Ewes that are below their target BCS tend to have a poorer ovulation rate, with a reduction in scanning percentage. If lowland crossbred ewes increase their BCS from 2.5 to 3.5 scanning percentages can increase by 20-40%.  

Ewes with a lower BCS will be hormonally driven to increase their dry matter intakes by up to 30% more, however if grazing intakes do not meet energy requirements, flushing could be used to increase body condition scores. Flushing by feeding a high plane of nutrition can be achieved by providing access to better-quality grazing, and if necessary, supplementary feed and nutritional blocks. 

The fertility of ewes in good condition won’t be improved by flushing as an ideal BCS will optimise ovulation, conception and embryo implantation rates. 

If leaner ewes don’t gain condition on good grazing after four to five weeks, seek advice from your vet.

For more information on ewe nutrition and improving BCS pre-tupping check out our three top tips for preparing ewes for tupping blog. 

improving ewe fertility

Avoiding issues when improving ewe fertility

Increasing ewe nutritional intakes to improve ewe fertility should be done with care to avoid issues arising. For example:

  • A rise in nutrition in highly prolific breeds, such as the Lleyn and Aberdale, will result in excessive ovulation rates and therefore excessive embryo numbers developing
  • When leaner, older ewes are pushed into high ovulation rates there is an increased likelihood that they could carry triplets which could cause issues during pregnancy and at lambing

Top Tips To Prepare Rams For Tupping

preparing rams for tupping

Performing a ram check ten weeks pre-tupping will ensure any health or condition problems are detected in good time. This will allow for treatment to be administered or replacements to be sourced.

If rams aren’t in the best condition for tupping, they won’t be working to their full potential, so the productivity and profitability of your flock could be negatively impacted.

Perform a ram MOT

Use the four T’s rule when checking over rams.

Teeth – Rams with mouth problems could be prevented from reaching their ideal body condition score pre-tupping or lose more condition than is normal during tupping. To prevent this, check for:

  • Spikey or missing teeth
  • Under and overshot jaws (the teeth should touch the dental pad at the top)
  • Abscesses along the jawline

Consider replacement rams if grazing is affected by these issues or in the case of infection, consult your vet.

Toes – Painful foot problems could reduce grazing time and prevent rams from serving ewes.  What’s more, infection may raise the body temperature of the ram which could reduce fertility as sperm production may be hindered. It’s therefore important to:

  • Check each foot for growths, scald, footrot, CODD, long toes or swellings
  • Check between their front legs for brisket sore as this may reduce their willingness to mount ewes and may be made worse by a raddle harness

Antibiotic injection, topical antibiotic spray and early detection of footrot is more effective than foot paring. Consult your vet or visit your local agricultural supplier for advice or products if needed.

preparing rams for tupping

Testicles – Tup testicles obviously need to be in good working order to promote sperm function or production. Establish the condition ram testicles are in by:

  • Checking for abnormalities or lumps in the testicles and scrotum that could affect sperm or semen function
  • Checking the hard nobbles at the bottom of each testicle (the epididymis) are normal, equal in size and smooth
  • Checking for scabs or thickened skin on the scrotum as this could be a sign of mange
  • Ensuring the testicles should be firm and spongy but not hard, heavy, evenly matched and freely mobile within the scrotum

It’s important to measure the circumference of the testicles as this directly correlates to ram fertility. Correct feeding can increase testicle size and rams with larger testicles are known to produce ewe lambs that breed earlier. The general guide for scrotum size at the widest point is as follows:

Mature Ram
Lowland breeds: 36 – 38 cm
Hill breeds: 34 – 36 cm
Shearlings
Lowland breeds: 32 – 34 cm
Hill breeds: 30 – 32 cm
Ram Lambs
Lowland breeds: 30 cm
Hill breeds: 28 cm

(Source: Farm Advisory Service)

Tone – Tups will often lose around 15% of their original body weight over the six-week tupping period, so it’s important they are in the right condition prior to mating. This will ensure they have enough energy for testicular growth and semen production. It will also mean they have the stamina to serve the required number of ewes.

Aim for a body condition score (BCS) of between 3.5 and 4 eight weeks before introducing rams to ewes, as this affects sperm quality so may in turn result in repeat higher lambing rates and increase the likelihood of twins.

A less than optimum BCS can reduce their interest in ewes as well as hinder fertility, while excess weight can reduce libido.

If rams are struggling to meet achieve the correct BCS six weeks before mating, consider supplementing their diets with a suitable compound as this should help with testicular growth and sperm production. Make sure any feed given contains ammonium chloride and ammonium sulphate to prevent stones forming in the bladder and that they don’t consume high levels of magnesium.

Consider providing mineral blocks to ensure trace element requirements are met (selenium may help with improved sperm production), and ensure tups are wormed and vaccinated to prevent health issues.