Encouraging early growth and intakes in young calves is key to the success of any calf-rearing enterprise, regardless of whether your young stock are destined for beef or dairy herds.
But, as is the case with any aspect of farming, it’s not always plain sailing, even in the most carefully managed young stock programmes.
Jack Livingstone oversees the care and feeding of 80 replacement heifers and 150 beef calves at Guinness Farm in County Tyrone.
His father, Randal, milks a herd of 230 year-round calving Holstein Friesian cows, which yield 10,500 litres at an average of 4.0% butterfat and 3.23% protein, with milk going to Lakeland on a liquid contract.
Heifers are served with Genus sexed-semen, with the remaining cows being bred to Belgian Blue for dairy beef.
New-born calves are fed colostrum from their own dam, receiving two litres three times in the first 24 hours.
They are then fed two litres of whole milk twice a day through the trough.
Calves are housed in individual pens for two weeks, then moved to group housing and are weaned gradually at 6-8 weeks old on to creep feeders in groups pens.
At 12 weeks old calves are transferred to indoor slatted housing where the beef bulls are reared on silage and TMR, ultimately being finished at 600kg liveweight or 400kg deadweight, at around 20 to 25 months old.
Last spring, Jack started looking for a new pelleted compound feed for his calves, as the coarse feed they had at the time was getting stuck in their feeders.
He was told about Blue Sky Calf by Ian Cummins at Irwin Feeds and decided to give it a try.
Blue Sky Calf is a compound feed that is specially formulated for the nutritional needs of young calves and includes micronized, cooked cereals for optimum digestion.
It also contains live yeast and a premium yeast fraction to encourage early feed intakes, support immunity and rumen development, as well as reduce growth checks and the risk of acidosis or digestive upset.
“We’ve been using the Blue Sky Calf feed with our beef herd successfully for nine months and it’s working well with our feeders,” he explained.
“I’ve also noticed that our calves are eating it really well - they aren’t sorting through it or pulling it out of the trough and our intakes have nearly doubled!
“We also aren’t seeing any setbacks during weaning and, as a result, the calves are visibly a lot stronger with sturdier frames.
“Because it’s been so successful with the beef calves, we are thinking of adding it to our heifers’ diet too,” he concluded.