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Achieving better calf growth & performance in Co. Kilkenny

L-R GAIN Business Manager Amy Caldbeck and dairy farmers Kieran and Seán Phelan

Dairy farmer Kieran Phelan discusses his farming enterprise and how GAIN Easi-Mix Calf Milk Replacer has benefited calf performance.

Kieran Phelan farms outside Galmoy, Co. Kilkenny on his family dairy farm. ‘’We milk 170 spring calving cows on a grazing platform of 130 acres. The cows are producing 5,700 litres annually with an average 1,300kg concentrate intake.’’ Kieran’s herd are predominately Friesian with a small mix of Montbéliarde. Good ground conditions have allowed Kieran to let cows out to grass by day since the middle of February. The plan is to have cows fully turned out, day and night, by the middle of March. Kieran added, ‘’I’ll introduce some zero-grazed grass from out blocks from Mid-March onwards.’’

Calving is now in full swing on the Phelan farm. ‘’The first cow calved here in the middle of January. We’ve 120 cows calved so far, with everything going well to date, The aim is to have 80% of the herd calved within 6 weeks.’’ Kieran’s aim is to have 40 to 45 replacement heifers each year. Kieran uses a mixture of dairy and beef sires during his breeding programme with AI been the preferred method of breeding over the conventional stock bull. Kieran explained, ‘’we AI the cows for the first 8 weeks. On average we use 80 sexed semen straws on our replacement heifers and top performing cows, with the remainder getting a mixture of straws from Aberdeen Angus, Herford and Belgium Blue bulls.’’

Watch: GAIN Feed Technical Specialist, Willie Darmody discusses the GAIN Calf Milk Replacer suitable for the dairy herd

Calf Management

With that, dairy farmers will be conscious that the breeding season isn’t long coming around. Effective calf management from the moment the calf hits the ground is fundamental in ensuring next year’s breeding heifers have the best possible chance of performing within the herd. No doubt Kieran’s effective calf management plan ensures this year on year. Kieran outlines some key requirements to achieve this, ‘’the cows receive a pre-calving mineral and vaccinations including Rotavirus six weeks prior to calving to ensure both the cow and calf are healthy. When the cow calves, she’s milked and the calf gets three litres of colostrum right away. The calf receives whole milk up until two weeks of age, before moving to calf milk replacer.’’

With the recent purchase of an automatic calf feeder Kieran has the capacity to hold and feed more calves in the same area. ‘’With the old method calves didn’t have the same space, as you had to leave room to reverse in a 50-teat feeder into the pen. The automatic feeder has given more space for calves and is much more efficient.’’ Kieran has room to feed and hold in excess of 100 calves, with no pressure on the system. Kieran moves the calves into larger groups when placed on the automatic feeder at two weeks old. ‘’The calves are placed on a 75-day feed curve, getting 6 litres a day across three feeds which works very well.

Calf Nutrition

At the centre of Kieran’s effective calf management programme is GAIN Easi Mix Calf Milk Replacer, which is high in protein at 25%, and contains key ingredients to support calf health and performance like Digest VO, BioMos and Gardian, which help against Coccidiosis and Cryptosporidium. Kieran has been using GAIN Easi Mix for the last number of years and is delighted with calf performance. Kieran says ‘’GAIN Easi Mix is definitely the best calf milk replacer for heifer growth with calves thriving beyond expectations.’’ Along with calf milk replacer, mixed at 125 grams per litre, Kieran follows the GAIN Momentum Programme advice and ensures calves have access to ad-lib straw, water and a starter calf ration to maximise calf performance. Kieran starts with GAIN Startacalf and then moves to GAIN Goldgrain as calves develop and finds the calves eat well and continue to thrive.

Watch: GAIN Business Manager Marita Butler discusses the GAIN Calf Feed Range

Herd Health

Herd health within the Phelan farm is of up most importance and the effective management and feeding of calves helps to reduce stress. Kieran outlines his approach to maintain herd health, ‘’the calf house is cleaned out once a week and well limed to kill any unwanted bacteria. The calves are bedded at least twice a week. We have had some issues with Cryptosporidium from time to time, which we have to watch carefully. Calves get a dose for the first four days of life to prevent against disease build up,’’ along with this Kieran’s use of GAIN Easi Mix which includes key ingredients that help support calf health will add to his control measures on farm.

GAIN Business Manager Support

Amy Caldbeck is Kieran’s GAIN Business Manager. Kieran believes that the expert advice offered from Amy and the team at GAIN is very important for farmers to have access to. ‘’The team are excellent and always around to help, with excellent technical experience on all aspects of farming practices.’’

Future Plans

Looking into the future Kieran is busy with some ongoing investment into farm infrastructure. ‘’At the moment we are happy with the herd size, with our main aim to increase milk solids while reducing concentrate inputs by improving the genetic makeup of our cows. We’re currently doing some work on our dairy with a new parlour and bulk tank been installed in the coming weeks.’’

Taking all factors into consideration, Kieran believes the GAIN Easi Mix Calf Milk Replacer is a value for money investment in his herd. ‘’I find that’s its good value for money. Feeding good quality calf milk replacer is important and means more milk in the bulk tank.’’

Elaine Brady, Technical Support, GAIN Animal Nutrition

Feed conversion efficiency is greatest during the first 2 months of the calf’s life and diminishes slowly thereafter. To take advantage of this period, a high quality milk replacer is essential in achieving weight targets as set out the GAIN Dairy Heifer Rearing Programme to ensure replacement heifers enter the milking herd at 24 months old. GAIN Easi-Mix is whey protein concentrate based, suitable for high performance replacement heifer rearing, with a crude protein of 25% and an oil content of 18% for lean muscular and skeletal development.

GAIN Easi-Mix is performance formulated by providing a correct balance of amino acids (“building blocks” of protein) to the calf. Lysine and methionine are the first limiting amino acids for growth and development. Thus, these are maximised within GAIN Easi-Mix for efficient live weight gains and calf health.

Because of the careful manufacturing process of the whey protein concentrate, it provides approximately 3 times more immunoglobulins than more traditional whey powders, supporting immune defences within the gut. A blend of energy sources including natural milk fats ensures that the calf gets the correct type and amount of energy required. High levels of vitamins A, D, and E are included to optimise immune status and development along with minerals and trace elements selenium, copper and zinc critical for enhanced performance and disease resistance.

To give your calf the best chance, specialised performance and health boosters have been added. Digest VO and Biomos support immune function and minimise the occurrence of scours by reducing pathogens binding to the intestine wall. Yoghurt powder, adds lactic acid bacteria to the calf's abomasum reducing the pH, making it a more hostile environment for scour causing bacteria to thrive. Gardion is a garlic oil, added to aid immunity. Garlic has natural antioxidant, ant-inflammatory and bactericidal characteristics.


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