For John Mitchell, successful calf-rearing demands attention to detail and strict adherence to a proven regime, where changes are made gradually each week.
“The vital first step is to ensure every calf gets three litres of cow colostrum in the first six hours of life before we get them established on milk replacer.
“At first this is fed through a teat on a bucket as calves are in single accommodation until doubling up after a fortnight. During this time they also get their first vaccinations and are building up resistance to disease.
“In those first two weeks the aim is to minimise risk. As part of our disease prevention regime vaccinations are repeated at weaning,” according to John.
He says that using JFC calf hutches makes calf-rearing simpler and safer as calves move gradually from single hutches to those designed for up to four calves, and finally to impressive Super Hutches ideal for up to eight animals.
To reduce the work load and give calves access to a consistent supply of milk 24/7, the Mitchells invested in two computer-controlled calf feeders. They each have four feeding stations and ensure milk is always on offer to each calf in the correct amount, at the right temperature and at the standard consistency.
When asked why the quality of calf-rearing is based on JFC calf hutches, John noted that high standards of hygiene were made easier as the stock are in a draft-free environment with access to fresh air, so the threat of respiratory diseases, especially pneumonia, is dramatically reduced.
“JFC has been designing livestock equipment since 1987 and it shows. Their calf hutches are strong, yet light enough to be easily moved and the rear door makes bedding simpler, although some folk are changing to using plastic slatts.
“There are other makes of calf hutches on the market, but JFC provide excellent customer service and the JFC range has so many plus points.
The farmer says that the eight calf Super Hutches he uses are in white to avoid over heating by reflecting the sunlight, and they come with a second adjustable vent, an extra wide door and two handy lifting hooks.
On a Greenmount College work placement to New Zealand a decade ago, and during recent visits to North America, John has been able to learn from other dairy farmers.
As a result, he no longer abruptly weans calves, but instead slowly reduces milk volume over two weeks. Taking calves slowly off milk by seven to eight weeks gives a better DLWG with no set backs.
“Our aim is one week, one change at most over the two months, from alone on mother’s first milk to off milk and in groups of up to 35. Keeping them singly for that first fortnight and then doubling up before moving into groups of four and then eight keeps disease at bay.
“Above all, rearing in hutches gives calves a healthy, natural environment as their resistance to diseases increases. Mixing with ever larger numbers of animals is ideal preparation for life in the herd. Calf-rearing is critical to the health and productivity of our dairy enterprise in the years ahead; it’s not a chore to be tackled after everything else is done.”
John says that he has a set routine no matter happens: “Second-best never does when rearing young stock, and by using JFC calf hutches we are giving our heifers the best possible start to a productive life.”
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