Animal Health

Welfare key in rearing calves

By Dairy News

THERE IS not much Bernie McManus doesn’t know about rearing calves, after all he has been doing it for most of his life and has got the skill down to a fine art these days.

Mr McManus and his wife Carol milk 130 spring calving Jerseys on their dairy farm just out of Lockington, annually they rear 40 heifer calves and a dozen bulls.

Bernie claims their set-up is simple, but it does the job and has done so for many years.

It begins with the vaccination of the milking herd at dry-off with an injection of Rotavec Corona to protect the new-born calf from E.coli and scours — a process Bernie has been following for many years.

“The most important piece of advice I can give to anyone is to make sure the person rearing the calves is the person with a genuine interest in their being well. If you don’t, that’s when you start to run into trouble,” Mr McManus said.

Mr McManus loves his cows.

His herd Bercar, features regularly in the top ASI Jersey herds in the country and his care and love for his stock begins from the moment the calf hits the ground.

His calf rearing is based around nurturing young calves individually and moving them through a series of stages as they grow.

“We take the calves off their mums within 12 hours of calving,” he said.

Bulls and heifers are reared separately and everyone starts their lives in their own individual pen.

Calves are fed colostrum for the first four days and each calf is tattooed with their own ID number.

“Keeping calves housed, warm and fed well is a very important part of their welfare,” Mr McManus said.

The calf sheds are cleaned out annually before each spring and disinfected with Viral FX — a broad spectrum viral, bacterial and fungal disinfectant and cleaner.

Mr McManus spreads a bedding and litter conditioner called Deltasec over the concrete floors, which is ultra - and user-friendly.

The floor is then covered with rice hulls and Mr McManus has found he can sprinkle Deltasec again over the top of the rice hulls, if they start to get a bit wet toward the end of the rearing period.

The calves are fed two litres of fresh milk twice daily and they drink from individual buckets.

“The calves are in the shed for a period of around six weeks, depending on the weather,” Mr McManus said.

While in the sheds they have access to hay and fresh water.

Interestingly, Mr McManus places a bucket of fresh dirt in each pen to stop the calves from fossicking around in their bedding.

The heifer calves move from individual pens into pens of five while in the shed — when they move outside they still have access to shade and shelter.

“Once the calves go out into the paddocks they are fed an 18 per cent calf pellet for at least three months,” he said.

Mr McManus has 11 paddocks he regularly rotates the calves through.

During this period they are accordingly drenched and vaccinated by Mr McManus whilst the de-horning is completed by a vet.

Growing out his stock well is an important part of herd management.

The bulls need to be well grown for sale to dairy farmers to join heifers at 14 months of age, while the heifers are agisted off-farm on a neighbouring property from yearlings to the point of calving.

The heifers are freeze branded two months before they calve.

“It is very important to have well grown heifers entering the milking herd at two years of age — the care you show them from birth must continue right through their lives.

“We use good semen and we have a herd of great cows but it all starts with what you do with your calves,” Mr McManus said.