Calf to calving event shines spotlight on areas for improvement at Dorset farm

Published 20 December 16

Peter Hunt (right ) Low ResSince taking part in AHDB Dairy’s Calf to Calving initiative, Dorset producer Peter Hunt has seen a marked reduction in calf losses and has been able to focus attention on key areas that will be bring the biggest gains in heifer performance.

“Four fifths of solving a problem is knowing what the problem is, and we’re on a fact finding mission. The meetings have shown us when and why problems are occurring and how to address them,” he says.

Peter is one of 13 farms taking part in AHDB Dairy’s Calf to Calving initiative. As part of the scheme, the growth, health and nutrition of 10 heifers on each of 13 farms are being monitored every three months. Farmer meetings are also being run on the host farms with the aim of bringing the latest research and best practice to farmers, improving calf survival and increasing the number of heifers making it into first lactation.

It was the information provided as part of these meetings that helped the team at Blackmarsh Farm, to home in on areas for improvement. One of the main areas was the level of calf milk replacer being fed in the winter months.

Peter explains: “February was traditionally a difficult months. We’d get a concentration of various problems through the winter that accumulated and hit us in February. Those issues (scours) came from under feeding when it was cold, and hygiene. That’s one of the things the meetings told us.”

As a result, calf milk replacer (CMR) rates have been increased in general from 550g of CMR/calf/day to 750g CMR/calf/day. This is raised further when ambient temperatures drop. Calves also now wear calf jackets in the winter months. Both of these actions help ensure calves have enough energy to grow, as well as keep warm.

“We’ve certainly had a lot less problems with the calves since we’ve increased calf milk replacer rates and used the jackets,” comments Peter.

The farm has ongoing challenges with cryptosporidiosis  which is the main reason for any calf losses. However since getting involved with the C2C initiative, they have not lost a calf of over five days old for any other reason.

To rectifying issues, the team are trying to focus on cleanliness all the way through from calving onwards. All hutches are emptied, power washed and disinfected between batches. The plan now is to place more attention on the calving pens, as Peter is convinced this is risk area for cryptosporidiosis spread.

The fact the farm is in the process of installing cubicles in the transition yard, will also reduce the number of calving pens, meaning that hygiene will be even more important. As a result, the plan is to make it easier to clean the calving pens so they can be cleaned more frequently.

Peter also wants to install a washing machine on farm so calf jackets can be washed at 60C as this has been found to be the temperature at which cryptosporidiosis bugs are destroyed.

Changes to calf management at Blackmarsh Farm

- Increased CMR rates
- Improved cleanliness 
- Plan to put washing machine so calf jackets can be washed at 60C 
- Use calf jackets on calves in winter months 
- Want to improve ventilation
- Looking at a purpose built shed for calf rearing