Give calves a head start

July 13, 2017

Neville McDonald, of Kyabram, with four of his 10 autumn jersey calves.

Mr McDonald said feed was the key to successful rearing.

The autumn calves that Mr McDonald currently rears are 8 to 10 weeks old.

Neville McDonald says the first three months of a calf’s life are the most important.

The Kyabram dairy farmer has 10 autumn-calved Jerseys on his property and is set to add to his calf herd on the 80ha property in the coming weeks.

‘‘I will start calving again in three weeks,’’ he said.

Mr McDonald does all the rearing himself.

‘‘I rear them for replacements of old cows, cows that don’t work out or if we lose some.

‘‘The first three months is the most important as it sets them up for the rest of their lives. The bigger they are the better in some respects.’’

Mr McDonald has a clear calf rearing system he follows.

‘‘I start them in the shed over there for four to six weeks.

‘‘I feed them 3-4litres of milk once a day as well as grain, hay and straw.

‘‘When they are four to six weeks old, I bring them out here (into the small paddock), feed them ad-lib grain and hand feed them milk up to 10 to 12 weeks old.

‘‘Up to six months they eat ad-lib hay and then I move them again to eat silage and pasture after six months of age.’’

Mr McDonald said feeding was the key to rearing calves.

‘‘The main thing is to have enough of what they want.

‘‘There is no harm in keeping them growing out even after you have weaned them.

‘‘You have to keep them growing because if they have setbacks with health they are not the same.’’

Mr McDonald said keeping the calves healthy was just as important as feeding them.

‘‘It’s important to keep them warm. If they get cold, like humans, they can get pneumonia and other health problems.’’

While it is still important to look after the calves through the whole rearing process, less needs to be done as they got older.

‘‘When they get older there is less to do as I can fill up the drop feeder with hay, which lasts them a few weeks but there is always something to do with them.’’

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