Sammy is from a beef and sheep farm in the hills of the Rossendale valley, and although lambing time is her favourite time of year, dairy calves now generally occupy her attention for the other 50 weeks of the year! Her interest in dairy farming was sparked during a one-year work placement whilst studying for her degree, BSc Hons Animal Behaviour and Welfare, at Harper Adams University. She was based on a large dairy farm in West Sussex carrying out a research project and getting to grips with the day to day workings of the farm.
Sammy went onto work for a progressive farm animal vets practice as a Veterinary Technician after University, where she has developed a greater knowledge of the health and production aspects of dairy farming, in particular, successful calf rearing. Having seen many calf rearing systems, she has an excellent understanding of the importance of setting clear goals and getting things right from the start to ensure healthy and profitable animals.
Weighing calves on an electronic scale sounds like good practice – but who has got time for that?! I caught up with a couple of dairy farmers who have bought an electronic scale within the last 12 months to ask their thoughts so far on using it.
Don’t be fooled into thinking it is too early to begin a fly control plan in February/March! Flies have a short lifecycle (although weather dependent) and produce high numbers of eggs. By the time we begin to see the odd adult fly on the farm, we can be sure the environment has high numbers in the developing stages.
When discussing colostrum management, attention is often focused around the calf. However, to produce a quality-first feed we need to begin with the cow in her transition period. Dam colostrum contains farm-specific antibodies making it so valuable to the calves on that farm - providing protection against the pathogens, they are most likely to encounter. Diet and management of the dry cow directly influence the quality of colostrum she is able to produce.
Far too often calf rearers get caught up blaming “uncontrollable factors”, mainly the weather, for poor growth rates or poor health in their calves. But arguably, doing a better job of things that are within our control would produce a stronger calf able to deal with additional challenges.
Reduced calving age from one year to the next may suggest improved calf and heifer rearing; however it is months later when we can make these assumptions. If a heifer is first served at 18 months old, it can be assumed that there are improvements to be made to allow future heifers to reach service weight earlier. But it is difficult at this point to then determine at which stage of rearing that this heifer didn’t meet her targets and fell behind.
The market is saturated with different milk powders, all with their own niche selling point and most of them promise to provide you with the solution you are looking for (whatever that may be!) I think it is fair to say many farmers look at the oil and protein levels stated on the bag, followed by price per tonne and end up making a relatively uninformed decision.