Shropshire Farming Talk: Post weaning winter calf management
As the winter months encroach, the importance of proper bedding and optimal management for calves cannot be overstated. For dairy calves particularly, a well-maintained bed is not just about comfort; it's a critical factor in their ability to thrive in lower temperatures, grow and meet their optimum lifetime performance.
The right bedding strategy for dairy calves is essential for maintaining body temperature, which plays a role in dictating growth rates and patterns. When calves are warm, they can convert feed into growth rather than having to use energy to stay warm.
The lower critical temperature (LCT) is a threshold below which calves must expend additional energy to maintain their normal body temperature. The LCT requirements for calves alter as they age.
For those under three weeks, temperatures between 10 to 15 degrees are manageable, but as they cross that threshold, their tolerance and resistance improves to a range of six to ten degrees. As temperatures drop throughout winter, farmers must adjust their bedding management to optimise calf health and performance.
Albeit straw may be expensive, it's an investment towards future savings. Well-bedded calves are healthier and more efficient in converting feed to growth, which in the case of heifer calves, means they will meet their target weight for bulling more quickly.
Additional, proactive measures, such as using bales to block drafts, further insulate calves and protects them from low temperatures, as well as health problems such as pneumonia.
During winter, calves rely on stored feeds such as silage and concentrates. Dairy calf concentrates comprise a blend of energy, protein, and fibre sources.
Cereal grains, such as corn, provide essential starch-based energy but require careful balancing to maintain healthy rumen function. Including a variety of proteins in the concentrate is crucial to supply dairy calves with a mix of amino acids to ensure optimal growth and development.
Balancing rations of silage and concentrates is essential to ensure proper nutrition and to achieve target growth rates. Depending on silage quality, farmers may need to supplement silage with 2-3kg of concentrates a day to meet daily liveweight gain targets of 0.75kg.
For dairy calves housed over winter, creating a warm and insulated environment, and feeding a balanced ration of silage and concentrates is critical to support growth, immune function, and rumen development.
Achieving these goals enhances farm productivity by allowing calves to reach their target weight to get in calf and achieve first calving at 24 months, ultimately optimising the lifetime milk yields of these animals.
Millie Hendy, calf and youngstock manager at Wynnstay