Maximising calf performance

We spoke to farm manager Shane Quirke who runs a herd of 300 dairy cows in Edenderry, Co Offaly about maximising calf performance

Shane Quirke is the farm manager on John Furey’s farm in Edenderry, Co Offaly. “We have been in dairying for the past four years. We are currently milking 300 British Freisian cows. In year one, we started off with 100 heifers and gradually built up the herd. We have a grazing platform of 300 acres with 60 acres rented. We make all our own silage from an additional 100ac block,” said Shane. 

Last year was the first year that Shane kept all the calves on the farm. “We bought a Holstein bull last year for the first time and have found that the calves have been very good from him. We artificially inseminate for the first five weeks and then let in the stock bull to cover any repeats,” says Shane. “The plan is to keep all the calves so that we don’t need to get them contract-reared,” he added. 

There are 40 calves on the farm here at the moment. Calving generally runs from 25 January until the end of April. Last year was the first year that we winter milked, calving 40 cows in the autumn. I had a couple of late milkers last year. That’s what enticed me into it,” said Shane.

Calf Nutrition

Every calf that is born on the farm receives colostrum straight away. Shane admits: “It doesn’t matter if it’s 2am in the morning. We milk the cow and stomach-tube the calf straight away with their mother’s beastings. 

Once you stomach-tube the calf, you’re sure that he’s been fed. We feed the calf on its mother’s milk for one week before moving it on to GAIN Easi Mix Calf Milk Replacer.<> ” Shane uses GAIN Easi Mix Calf Milk Replacer, which is high in protein at 25%. Key ingredients such as Digest VO, BioMos help against coccidiosis and cryptosporidium. Gardion is in there too which helps support immunity.“The calves receive milk replacer for 74 days. We also start calves on GAIN Startacalf Muesli < > from a few days of age with ad-lib access to get them going. 

We use an automatic calf feeder that mixes GAIN Easi Mix Calf Milk Replacer to the same temperature and consistency every time. Within five days of weaning, the automatic calf feeder will gradually reduce the calf’s feed intake and wean them off the milk replacer. After weaning, we would introduce GAIN Wean ‘N’ Build <> which keeps calves thriving,” according to Shane. Shane believes that the combination of GAIN Easi Mix Calf Milk Replacer, GAIN Startacalf and GAIN Wean ‘N’ Build delivers real results on the farm, “We find that the calves thrive off the milk replacer and ration. It means that the calves are meeting their targets on time and are healthy,” said Shane.

Calf Health

In terms of calf health, Shane ensures that he does everything to ensure that the calves are as healthy as possible. “We vaccinate the calves with Bovipast as their immune system can be vulnerable at a young age. Weaning can be a stressful time on calves so we want to make sure that they don’t get pneumonia.

Any calves that show signs of a drop in performance are separated from the main lot and treated. The welfare of the animals on the farm is of high importance and something we ensure is maximised here on our farm,” Shane stated.

Technical Support

Geoff Kennedy is Shane’s GAIN Business Manager on the farm. Shane is quick to highlight the important role that Geoff plays on his farm. Shane admits: “Geoff is a pleasure to work with. We form a nutrition and overall health programme for the calves to make sure that they are getting the right balance of milk and ration. Geoff visits the farm regularly to check in on the calves to make sure that they are hitting their targets. He’s always at the end of the phone if I ever need him. It makes a huge difference.”

Dairy Heifer Rearing Programme

The GAIN dairy heifer rearing programme is designed to give practical advice to farmers on the most efficient means of achieving optimal performance from your dairy heifers. This programme is specifically designed to build the calf’s immune system right from their first day of life and help protect the calf until it has a developed immune system. The programme is divided into a number of key milestones in the calf’s journey focusing on nutrition, health and husbandry. “Geoff made me aware of the dairy heifer rearing programme. 

It’s a very helpful and useful resource to have on the farm as sometimes it can be difficult to know if you have the calves on the right track. It points out potential threats such as pneumonia and gives very practical advice on how to look after the herd while optimising performance at the same time,” said Shane.

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