Rearing to Go
Rearing calves for beef can be a fickle business. What differentiates successful operators is the effort they spend on planning and ensuring quality – from sourcing their animals to their choice of feed. And therein lies the best advice.
As in many specialist farming disciplines, the success factors for calf rearing are varied. What they all share is an overriding commitment to quality and a skilled approach. It starts with the sourcing and selecting of calves, ideally from as few sources as possible and with adequate background information. Buying ex-farm and knowing the animals’ history reduces risks of disease and illness because you can check the farm’s practices and colostrum programme. And let’s face it, there’s a world of difference between healthy calves that received high-quality colostrum within the first 12 hours plus adequate quantities thereafter, and those that miss out.
“Aim for good-quality calves that weigh at least 40 kg, as they will lead to better reared stock,” suggests Nutrition and Quality Manager, Wendy Morgan. “And be aware of calves that aren’t alert or show signs of illness. Even if they’re a bargain or free, those animals will ultimately cost you.” The next critical step is minimising the stress of transportation and resulting growth checks. Calves penned for transport should have space to lie down in a draught-free area. If at all possible, feed them electrolytes on arrival, as this helps to lessen the impact of travel stress.
With feed being the dominant cost item, it can be tempting to make a selection on price alone. However, the results may be disappointing. In the case of milk powder, check the rates required (125 g vs 150 g to make up 1 litre) when comparing prices. Also, make sure it’s not rejected or downgraded baby milk powder; calf milk replacers (CMR) are designed for calves and will optimise growth, as well as being formulated with the vitamin and mineral requirements to meet the needs of a calf.
The type of protein plays a big role as well. “It’s important to note that any vegetable proteins contained in CMR, must in fact be processed vegetable proteins,” says Wendy. “Adding soya bean meal to CMR makes it poorly digestible. It should be listed on the ingredients in the form of hydrolysed vegetable protein or soya protein concentrate.”
The last critical decision rests with the choice of calf meal. As is generally the case, you get what you pay for. Quality meal will arrive smelling fresh and will be palatable to calves. This ultimately means that calves take to it quickly, the rewards being an easy transition from milk with minimal growth checks.
On the topic of growth: quality meal will do a great job of promoting good growth rates. That said, it’s vital to weigh calves regularly as weight deviations often give you an early indication of any issues, which means you can intervene in a timely manner. The reward: healthy calves that reach their targets and a healthy bottom line.