Volac National Heifer Rearing Conference

Speaker Emer Kennedy, Teagasc Moorepark is pictured at the Volac national heifer rearing conference in Charleville, Co Cork. Photo O'Gorman Photography.

Speaker Emer Kennedy, Teagasc Moorepark is pictured at the Volac National Heifer Rearing Conference in Charleville, Co Cork. Photo O’Gorman Photography.

Charleville, Ireland: Dec 2015

Ireland’s dairy herds have huge potential for improved performance at a time when the sector is undergoing massive expansion. By 2020, milk supply is expected to increase by 50% and the national dairy herd by 300,000 cows.

Currently, approximately 45% of heifers born in to Irish dairy herds fail to calve between 22 to 26 months, whilst 25% of the total don’t calve at all according to the latest report from Kelleher et al 2015.

A similar level of performance was achieved in British dairy herds in which approximately 20% of heifers failed to make it to first calving, according to a Royal Veterinary College study.

Over 350 farmer delegates attended Volac’s National Heifer Rearing Conference held in Charleville, December 2015 heard how they could start to increase their heifer performance and make significant improvements to overall herd efficiency and subsequent profitability.

Below you can watch a slidecast of each presentation or download a PDF summary.

Volac International Feed For Growth Program – The road map to helping farmers optimise opportunities in heifer rearing

Speaker: Niall Jaggan, Global Products Manager, Volac International

Download PDF summary

Optimising Response To The First Feed – Cow & Calf

Speaker: Dr. Emer Kennedy, Teagasc Researcher, Moorepark
Chairperson: Matt O’Keeffe, Editor – Irish Farmers Monthly

Download PDF summary

The Effect Of Nutrient Intake and Growth Rate Pre-Weaning on Long Term Herd Performance

Presenter: Professor Mike Van Amburgh, Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, USA

Download PDF summary – Programming better heifers
Download PDF summary – Setting the growth targets
Download PDF summary – Pre-weaning impact on milk yield

Putting Theory Into Practice: Getting all of the steps right along the Calf Rearing Route

Presenter: Pat Cahill, Volac International
Chairperson: Mike Magan, Chairman, Animal Health Ireland

Download PDF summary

Emerging Role of Contract Rearing

Presenter: George Ramsbottom, Teagasc Dairy Specialist

Download PDF summary

Neonatal Nutrition & Getting The Economics Right Impact of biologically appropriate feeding of heifer calves on growth, pubertal age, calving age and milk yield.

Presenter: John Maher, Regional Dairy Specialist, Teagasc

Download PDF summary

Impact of Calf Housing and Environment on Calf Performance

Presenter: Jamie Robertson, Livestock Management Systems Ltd.
Chairperson: Jack Kennedy, Dairy Editor, Irish Farmers Journal

Download PDF summary

How to keep your Computerised Feeder in tip-top condition

Regular Maintenance

  • Wash down feeder and using a bucket with hot soapy water
  • Clear powder dispensing outlet to ensure even flow of milk replacer
  • Check, clean and disinfect teats on a daily basis
  • Check and clean all tubing on regular basis
  • Check detergent level and ensure circulation washes are scheduled in.

When machine is not in use for a period of time

  • Empty powder hopper
  • Run a circuit wash on feeder and feed pipes
  • Wash down feeder and feed stations (Ensure IFS pumps, antennas are removed or covered to avoid any water contact).
  • Don’t use pressure washers to clean computerised feeders

Annual Maintenance

  • Contact engineer when service alarms are raised

Regular maintenance of a computerised feeder is an important part of keeping the feeder in tip-top condition.


Calf rearing systems – a guide

Have you reviewed your calf rearing system in the last couple of years?  We suggest you do this regularly, ideally every year, simply because great investments have been made in cattle genetics during the last decade, and yet calf feeding and management practices have lagged behind somewhat, which may in turn be preventing animals from achieving their true genetic potential.

You have an array of calf rearing systems to choose from – individual pens or hutches fed by buckets, or groups fed by machines. It’s a case of selecting the system which fits your own bespoke action plan for your farm.

1. Individual pens or hutches: for example, buckets, buckets with teats

The pros:

  • Calves get individual attention and feeding.
  • Feeding can be controlled very precisely with measured amounts given in one or more daily feeds. Problems are evident if milk feeds are not taken.

Exposure to infections, particularly those causing scours, are vastly reduced as mixing is minimal.

The cons:

  • Individual pens are very labour intensive and require a large area for relatively small numbers of calves.
  • Socialisation of calves is limited.
  • Calf exercise is also limited.

2. Group rearing: for example, Milkbar, ad-lib systems   

The pros

  • Calves can either be fed in troughs, Milkbar or an ad-lib machine, often following on from individual pens.
  • Ad-lib is more like natural feeding, whereas trough will still be done twice a day
  • Calves can socialise more easily and exercise more freely.

The cons

  • Infection spread is easier in larger groups, particularly scours and pneumonias.
  • It can be harder to check individual calves are taking the correct amount of.
  • If calves do become ill, they should be separated during any treatment which then requires individual penning.
  • Feeding machines need to be kept very clean to limit spread of infection between calves, and ensure the tubes don’t get blocked.

Ad-lib systems pose difficulties in controlling amounts of milk taken by calves because they feed as often as they like. Too much milk can make weaning harder since it can be difficult to reduce milk intake and encourage concentrate feeding.

3. Group Rearing (programmed feeding): for example, computerised feeders

The pros

  • Far less labour intensive.
  • Calves can socialise more easily and exercise more freely.
  • Calf collars or tags with microchips identify calves individually and control feeding levels precisely. The systems prevent overfeeding – the machine stops delivering milk to calves that have already had their programmed daily ration of milk.
  • Computerised feeding systems identify calves that don’t take in their daily amount and alert the stockman to investigate that particular calf.
  • Computerised feeding systems can deliver all the benefits of machine feeding with some of the individual management benefits of an individual rearing system.

The cons

  • Infection spread is easier in larger groups, particularly scour and pneumonia.
  • The feeding machine needs to be kept very clean to limit spread of infection between calves, and ensure the tubes don’t get blocked.