Tips from large-scale calf rearer

07 Nov, 2018 04:00 PM
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Calves are babies and people working with them need to understand this and care for them accordingly.
Calf rearing is made easier if there are simple, repeatable systems in place.
Calves are babies and people working with them need to understand this and care for them accordingly.

Rearing 6000 calves each year, Joanne Leigh has learnt a lot about calf rearing. As one of the guest speakers at the Dairy On PAR calf roadshow in Tasmania last year, Mrs Leigh was able to share a lot of useful tips with the 120 people who came along to one of the four sessions.

Mrs Leigh and her husband Jonathan established their calf-rearing business, Top-Notch Calves, 14 years ago. It is located at Tirau in the Waikato region of New Zealand. They rear calves on a contract basis, from a few days of age typically through to weaning.

At Top-Notch calves, the average mortality rate is less than 2 per cent. But the Leighs have noticed the mortality rate varied a considerable amount between batches of calves obtained from different farms.

Mrs Leigh said when they have investigated the reasons for higher mortality rates in some groups of calves, it was generally found to be due to calves not receiving adequate levels of quality colostrum.

In her presentation in Tasmania, she highlighted the importance of ensuring calves receive enough quality colostrum as soon as possible after birth as a calf's ability to absorb the immunoglobulins from colostrum decreases quickly.

Mrs Leigh said good facilities for calf rearing were facilities that were simple to use and achieved their purpose. There should be good ventilation but sheds should also should be draught free at calf height.

At Top-Notch calves, they sourced second-hand roofing iron for the panels between the pens, which helped minimise draughts and reduced any pen-to-pen contact of the calves. They have separate hospital pen for sick calves and also have 'slow-drinker' pens.

Despite rearing such large numbers of calves, Mrs Leigh made the point it was important to 'think individual'. "Calves are babies, if they are not hungry something is wrong," she said.

Early identification of problems assists the Leighs achieving their low calf mortality rate.

Having the right person (or people) was critical to the success of a calf-rearing system.

Again, Mrs Leigh highlighted that calves were babies and the people working with them needed to understand this and care for them accordingly.

Calf rearing is made easier if there are simple, repeatable systems in place. The calf-rearing system is reviewed each year to look for improvements that can be made. It was important to listen (and act where possible) on the suggestions made by those involved in calf rearing, Mrs Leigh said.

Mrs Leigh's final bit of advice: have fun as a team.D

This article courtesy of Tassie Dairy News first appeared in the May-June 2018 edition of the Australian Dairyfarmer magazine

See the calf-rearing section our website for more stories like this one. Click here

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