ATTENTION TO detail and a willingness to evolve are key factors behind the success of the Jelbart Dairy calf rearing team, Kerrie McCaughn and Libby Oakley.The two long-time staff members may work in an impressive shed, but the principals behind their practice could be adopted anywhere.
They shared their approach to calf rearing with dairy farmers from across the country at the recent National Muster, hosted by the Jelbart family at their Leongatha South farm.
When calves are brought in they are inspected and given their first feed of colostrum, which is tested with a refractometer as soon as it is delivered from the dairy.
Daily testing over the fortnight before the field day showed four days below 20 Brix, with one as low as 12. The highest reading was 26 and Kerrie says Brix readings in their 30s are now achieved.
Testing is important as the poorer quality is fed to bulls, better quality to heifers and the best quality is frozen if they have some left over.
“It all comes back to making decisions about the future of the herd, and that’s female calves,” Libby said.
Each calf receives colostrum when it first comes in, and a second batch the following feed.
Calves are identified, cross-checked with other members of staff, and ear tagged as soon as they come into the calf shed. This is documented on a huge whiteboard in the shed.
“The white board is proof that it happens. We love whiteboards. We’re religious about it and it pays off.”
The whiteboard also means relief staff can easily be brought up to date.
Libby receives the calves at five days old.
They are placed in a holding pen in small groups of between five to ten calves, depending on how busy the calving period is, until there are 40-42 calves, which are kept together in a larger pen.
Calves receive two litres in the morning and two litres in the afternoon.
“We try a few things different every year, just to test things and see if it makes a difference,” Libby said. Sometimes this is out of necessity. They received such an influx at once this year, with 10-15 calves a day, that they moved calves to once a day feeding and on the wagon earlier than normal.
At 14 days the calves receive an extra litre in the morning, and three days later are fed five litres once a day, which is fed to the whole group in a wagon, and feed.
Calves are now fed calf muesli.
“We used to use pellets and calf meal, but they love this muesli. It’s like cereal, it feels a bit lighter than calf meal.”
The shed is gutted and thoroughly cleaned between autumn and spring calving. All gates are disinfected with Virkon and left in the sun to dry.
During calving, the women use pooper scoopers to remove manure from pens and they are flushed out every day. All feeding equipment is cleaned with Hypo.
A new concrete floor has been installed at the request of the women
“We used to have a lot of water problems,” Libby said “Water would come in and everything would get spongy. It was a combination of urine and rain and weather.
“Tim (Jelbart) put concrete down to see if he the urine would run to that drain and it has done exactly that. We wash it down every day but they wee a lot,” she laughs.
Calves are now fully anaesthetised for dehorning. The cost has risen from around $4/head to $10/head but assistant farm manager Will Ryan says it is worth the cost.
It requires less staff to assist, improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness, and calves recover quicker, missing only one feed.
Calves are disbudded at 4-5 weeks of age and receive their 7-in-1 vaccination at the same time. This is a tad earlier than the convention but vet advice says it’s OK as long as the calf is not under stress. Vets can also check for hernias and extra teats.
The underlying principals, attention to detail, communication, record keeping, focus on cleanliness, passion and patience has meant they had lost only two calves from 583 on the day of the field day.
The investment in the most important part of the business is clearly paying off.