Unlocking potential in the milk drinking phase
This week we’re introducing four more fundamentals that will help you to unlock your heifer calves’ potential. Small management details like these can contribute towards their growth and the animals’ ability to hit required growth targets for 24 month calving.
Fact, if you increase your heifer calves’ daily liveweight gain from 500g to 800g in the milk drinking phase, then they’ll have the potential to increase yield by an average 450 litres in the first lactation*.
The strength of the oesophageal grove reflex is triggered by sucking, milk temperature and the position of the head. Consequently, calves need to drink from shoulder height to ensure neck extension, a weak groove reflex can cause milk to enter the rumen which can lead to problems such as bloat and scours. If you bucket feed, then raise the buckets to sit at least 30cm from the floor.
Whatever you do – from the time of feeding to volume, concentration and temperature of milk, dry feed and access to straw – be consistent. It’s vital to sustain intakes and growth.
Check teats regularly – splits and wear and tear could lead to fast drinking and in turn, abomasal overflow and scour which could impact on growth. Check again to make sure the teats are set up right – the hole should be in a + position, not an x position, otherwise milk flow will be compromised.
4. Ambient temperature:
Your calves have a thermal neutral zone of 15°C to 20°C, below which they will need more energy for maintenance and keeping warm. If this energy is not supplied, then growth rates and immunity could be compromised. It won’t be long before temperatures start to fall; for every 10°C drop below the thermal neutral zone, milk solids should be increased by 100g/day. Jackets are useful to keep calves warm from birth to three weeks, whilst it makes for common sense to ensure they are bedded on clean, dry straw in a draught free environment.
Finally, measure and monitor: your heifer calves will need to gain 800g/day throughout the rearing period if they are to double their birth weight by weaning and go on to reach 85 – 90% of mature weight by calving at 23 to 25 months.
* Adapted from Soberon & Van Amburgh 2013