Taking the pressure off calf feeding

Left to right: Bonanza's Dr. Amanda Dunn, farmer Willie Whiteford and Willie's nephew Steven
Left to right: Bonanza's Dr. Amanda Dunn, farmer Willie Whiteford and Willie's nephew Steven

A once-a-day calf feeding system is allowing a premier Ayrshire breeder to devote more of his time to keeping his heifer replacements in tip-top health.

The Whiteford’s father Jack moved from Scotland in 1947 and established Middle Ayrshires and in the 1980s the family introduced Red and White bloodlines to the herd.

The herd of 400 Ayrshires are based at Middle Farm, Carlisle, where Willie farms with his brother John and nephew Stephen.

Six years ago, they introduced Shine-Once-a-Day milk replacer to calves at 28 days old. The system has been so successful that the family say there is no going back.

“I wouldn’t go back to twice a day feeding from 28 days of age because feeding once a day gives me more time to spend with the calves. It means I can ensure the health of the animals is the best it can be,” says Stephen.

After calves are born they are given four litres of colostrum within four hours and then transition milk for seven days. Thereafter, they receive Shine Once-a-day twice a day until day 28 when feeding frequency is reduced to once a day to increase rumen development and cake intake; this approach makes weaning easier and ensures there is no fall in cake intake post-weaning.

The calves are housed individually at first then in groups of seven or eight at 28 days.

To encourage earlier meal intake, calves have continual access to rearing nut, water and straw from day one.

After weaning the calves continue to receive the rearing nut and are fed straw to ensure a gradual change in diet.

The herd is continually developing and is currently yielding an average of 7,000 litres annually.

The Whitefords champion the Ayrshire as a breed that is long lived and easy to care for.

They also have good mobility and are easy to manage, he says.

They have customers for cows and calves all over the UK, as far afield as Pembrokeshire and also Ireland. They have had five reduction sales in the past.

They believe Shine Once-a-Day allows calves to do well and grow to their full potential, ensuring that heifers that join the herd are of equal size and can continue to progress and thrive, allowing longevity.

Shine Once-a-day contains skim milk, buttermilk and five plant oils. These, along with vitamins, form a soft curd in the calf’s stomach and are broken down over many hours. This gives the calf a sense of fullness and contentment, says Selina Field of Bonanza Calf Nutrition.

“Calves also eat about 15per cent more dry feed so there is no weaning check,” she explains.

“In trials, calves perform better and are under less stress, especially at weaning.”

Shine Once-a-Day is as time efficient as using an automatic feeder but costs nothing to implement and calves can be kept in small groups to minimise disease.