Farming talk: Value of calf coats demonstrated by results

During the winter our youngstock can often benefit from some extra help in the form of calf coats to keep them warm, writes Gill Dickson, National Calf Specialist, Wynnstay

A recent study conducted by Harper Adams University in conjunction with Wynnstay also showed that the use of calf coats on calves born in the winter months can improve growth and reduce feed costs.

The trial found that using coats on calves born between December and February added more than 5kg to calves' overall weight gain to 12 weeks. Calves in coats also ate less food, reducing total feed costs by almost £3 per calf.

The study saw 40 two-week-old calves born between December 2013 and February 2014 split into two groups and housed in individual straw bedded pens. Both groups were fed a warm whey-based milk replacer twice a day before being offered ad lib 18 per cent CP early weaning concentrates until they were weaned at 42 days. At weaning the calves were put into a group pen until 12 weeks.

Unlike the control group, the treatment group of calves were fitted with calf coats until weaning at day 42.

The study found that calves with coats recorded higher daily live weight gains from the start of the trial to week 12, gaining an additional 5.3kg of weight overall.The calves with coats also ate less feed than the group without coats, reducing total feed costs by £2.90 per calf and per kg gain by 13p/kg.

Calves are comfortable until it gets to below 10C, at which point they get uncomfortably cold and they have to use more and more calories to keep warm.

The youngest animals in this trial were two weeks old, but had they been younger the benefits could have been even greater.

There are a variety of coats in the market, but it is important to pick one which is fully insulated, washable and keeps the area warm around the animal's heart and lungs, such as the Kerbl coats offered by Wynnstay.

The trial was conducted last winter, which was actually quite mild. Had it been colder this could have been greater than 5.3kg extra live weight gain. This demonstrates the benefits of using these coats even in a mild winter for savings in feed costs and increased weight gain.

The study, supervised by Simon Marsh, principal lecturer and cattle specialist Harper Adams University, will be presented at the British Society of Animal science conference in April.

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