Improving Management and Profit of Calf Rearing

Improving Management and Profit of Calf Rearing

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.

Richard Harrington of Birdshill Farm is milking 180 cows on an all-year-round calving system. Over the last couple of years Richard has opted to calve some cows to the Wagyu and rear them to weaning to join a Wagyu beef scheme. The rearer wants the calves to arrive to him weaned and 120kg. Richard has always sent calves based on age and how they look; aiming to have calves weighing 120-150kg based on “educated guesswork”.

Since investing in a digital weigh platform Richard reports it gives him the extra information to make a much more informed decision. The precise weight allows for more control over when the Wagyu’s leave. Previously there would be calves that looked well but as though they may be under the target weight and, therefore, Richard would have kept them back until the next lot. Animals kept back for another week or two are costing labour time, feed and space every single day.

The animals are weighed at the rearers as they walk off the lorry so it gives Richard better control to send a more consistent animal.

Calves are now also being weighed at birth and weaning. Although there isn’t much data collected yet, we are confident the process will provide some really good information; we are able to assess the milk stage and post-weaning of calves to assess/monitor and then make management decisions.

An additional use for the digital scales on this farm is to weigh the black and white bull calves that must be 50kg before leaving; giving peace of mind the animals sent have met the requirements and he won’t be penalised for any being a couple kg’s underweight.

Neil Brough of Buckabank Farm is milking 350 cows through Lely robots; he rears 175 replacement heifers each year with the black and white bull calves along with beef calves being sold less than 42 days.

I visit the farm monthly and we take weights from a snapshot of calves at this visit (usually anything born within the last week). We then follow this batch through when I am on farm,
monitoring growth rates of replacement heifers. The scales are also handy for checking when the bull and beef calves hit their 50kg minimum weight to leave the farm.

The greatest benefit Neil reports from having weight data is that he accurately knows heifer calf growth rates pre and post-weaning; meaning he can measure the success of weaning. It also allows him to monitor changes made in the system using quantitative measures.

The calf accommodation has recently been upgraded to a new shed with igloos and it has been really rewarding to see the improvement in growth as a result of improved housing.

I asked Neil to list the drawbacks of weighing calves, he explained, “without a doubt it is time-consuming, but you’ve just got to do it! It’s great that you come each month as it ensures it gets done regularly and takes the number crunching part out of my hands!”

“Sometimes we look at a group and think they have done well but once weighed they’re not always as good as I thought – the group are just growing equally as slow!” I guess this highlights the importance of having a quantitative measure rather than personal judgement.

For help and advice to weigh your calves, contact your local Wynnstay Calf & Youngstock Specialist.


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