DairyCo/BGS/RABDF Farm Walk - Cornwall

Published 25 April 14

Heifer Management – calf to calving at Trembethow Manor

The team at Trembethow Manor spoke about the issues surrounding the previous calf rearing policy, the changes made and successful heifer rearing.

In the previous all year round calving system, calves would be penned individually and bucket fed milk twice a day. This was very labour intensive with 40 to 60 calvings per month and it would take approximately four hours per day to feed, bed up and deal with any sick calves.

In the current autumn block calving system 310 cows are calved in 12 weeks, starting on 1 September. The calves are housed for the first 10 days in groups of 33, and fed 4 litres per day on a 50-teat trailer, so there is plenty of room for all calves to feed. Pasteurised whole milk is fed, with powdered milk used, when necessary. All calves are de-horned in this period and are vaccinated for Lepto and Husk. The Cocci vaccine is administered orally when the calves are drinking milk at the trailer, where one man can load the syringes while the other administers the vaccine.

Cornish Farm walk 1

Figure 1: Calves born last autumn, photo taken 2 April 2014. Note the excellent grass residual at rear of field, these calves already know how to graze!

Any calves not thriving after 10 days are held back inside until they are fit enough to go out. Otherwise they go outside, in the same groups of 33, in small paddocks with a mobile shelter (see picture 2 below). Calves are started on 6ml pencils for 10 weeks on an ad hoc basis, feed is put out once a day. After this, they then go onto heifer rearing nuts, building up to 1.75kg /day.

TOP TIP – if the feed gets wet in the rain, tip one end of the trough up to drain the water out but leave soggy feed in one end, put in dry feed and they will eat the lot by next day!

Figure 2 and 3: Calf mobile field shelter – (on skids – note ventilation at rear)

Cornish Farm walk 2


Cornish Farm walk 3

These calf paddocks are in an almost stubble like condition when the calves first go in – the paddocks will have had two or three cuts of silage taken from them. By the time the grass is growing again, the calves are ready to graze.

If the grass is getting away from the calves they change to strip grazing. It has been known to get an extra silage cut off half the field. The aim is to always get the most from each field. The fence is moved about 6m per day. To get this right you will need to judge how the grass is growing – plate metering is the answer here.

Since switching systems Paul has seen a drop in cases of pneumonia in the calves. Before he got up to 40 cases, whereas now there might be just 1 or 2 cases.

One issue with calves at grass has been maggots. Now they have a bucket of disinfectant kept at the field so that calves can be treated immediately.

Gloves are always worn by staff when feeding calves.

A worm count is carried out monthly and calves are treated when necessary. The only extra mineral supplementation used are Minsups – coxi blocks

Heifers are regularly weighed to assess whether they are on target to achieve 80kg at weaning and 330kg bulling weight. It is easy to miss growth checks unless you weigh your stock.

The 21 November is the first AI date and all heifers are housed on 18 November so they can be easily observed for heat detection. Tail paint is used as an aid, as well as routine observations after milking, at bedding up and 09:30. All staff know they need to record any observed bulling and will look out at all times, as well as the dedicated observation times. Hereford bulls are used as sweepers and they are fertility checked every year.

So far, this year’s PD results showed 150 cows and 50 heifers in calf in the first month, equating to 6.6 calvings per day. Only 14 heifers out of the 84 were not in calf at first PD session, but they were in calf at the following one. 

No drugs are required to get cows in calf now the system has changed – previously approx 10% required veterinary treatments.

The culling rate has dropped from 24% to 20% in the last 12 months and this is improving every year. In 2013, 10 cows were sold at market as they were calving outside the block. In previous years, heifers had to be bought in, now there are about 15 in-calf heifers to sell per year.


This is the fourth year Paul Richards has outwintered youngstock at Splattenridden Farm, and this has been the most challenging year yet. Previously, he never lost a heifer at outwintering though this year he lost 3 in-calf heifers to black leg.

The rotation on the farm is cauliflowers, fodder beet, potatoes/maize, 4-5 yr grass ley.

Heifers are outwintered on fodder beet with baled silage, in their second year. The fence is moved daily about 7m (or 6 rows) – the fence width used to be 100m but after hearing how other farmers were doing it, and learning from the DairyCo research, the fence is now 50m wide.

The bulling heifers were split into two groups post service roughly 50/50, one group were outwintered on fodder beet and received 6kg/DM of beet and 2kg/DM baled silage per day.

These were weighed on the 4 March this year the average weight was 343kg with a DLWG of 0.64kg. (The DLWG is from birth). The second group remained loose housed and were fed ad-lib baled silage and these were also weighed on the same day with an average weight of 336kg and a DLWG of 0.61kg.

Paul believes he has saved on labour by outwintering. It takes about 1 hour per day to move a fence, open a bale of silage and check stock outside. While it takes  at least 2 hours per day to bed down, feed and check stock inside.

The heifers are all on fodder beet from mid-March and when photographed on 2 April 2014 (see figure 4 below) – it’s impossible to tell which were outwintered!

For more information on the DairyCo project on outwintering systems for replacement heifers, see the DairyCo website under the Research and Development section

Cornish Farm walk 4

Figure 4: Heifers are all on fodder beet from mid-March

Cornish Farm walk 5


Grass utilisation

Paul’s ‘Eureka’ moment occurred when he still had Holstein cows on an intensive system and had just finished milking, but still had feeding and yard work to do – he saw his neighbours block calving herd walking from the parlour to the field and realised that their feed was already in front of them! They were walking forage harvesters and slurry tankers with no extra bedding required.

The block calving system, making the most use of grass, has led to a saving on fertiliser and increased yield from grass.  Fertiliser is now put out little and often – where he used to put out 70 units in February but now puts out 25 units. The farm also produces compost and this is applied under the ley, giving a slow release of nutrients.  

The use of a plate metering keeps Paul up to date with how the grass is performing, and by using the Agrinet software he shares his results with other farmers on similar systems so he can find out how he is – or isn’t – performing. Paul also provides his grass growth figures and analysis results to e-newsletter DairyCo Forage for Knowledge (link).  Paul values his time and says he has learnt the most by attending relevant discussion groups – ‘they are free consultancy days’.

Grass has been the outstanding saving since Paul changed systems – “why pay for protein in bags when you can grow it for an awful lot less?”

The grass growth and wedge as of Tuesday 1 April 2014

Grass wedge

Daily Growth  42.7

Farm Cover     1972

Total Area (measured)       74.19

Area of Grazing Platform Shut up for Silage    17.32 Ha


Slurry management

Slurry is an asset if you use it at the right time, always bearing in mind NVZ and Catchment Sensitive Area rules. You can get two feeds free from slurry – one application for silage and one for grazing.

Paul’s key to success in this area is his relationship with his contractor. The contractor is reliable and offers a very good rate and in return Paul gives him as much notice as possible as to when he needs him – and he pays him in a timely manner.

To enable Paul to forward plan he uses the weather forecast, which is a fairly reliable tool and can be accessed at anytime on your smart phone. Analysing compost and slurry is essential in order to assess what is being spread and in order to reduce the amount of bought-in fertiliser.

For more information about the DairyCo project on grazed grass production and utilisation with reliance on nutrients from slurry see the DairyCo website in the Research and Development section.