There are choices to be made everywhere right now – how to get the best value for money while protecting the future of your herd should be top of the list when it comes to weaning your dairy replacements this year. Concentrate on Quality rather than Quantity, you will not go wrong. It is well known that your youngstock are the most valuable animals in the herd – they are your future. But how do you do the best by them, while managing today’s cash flow? Here are some things to help you get the best bang for your buck, while making sure not to compromise on animal health.
The Importance of Time
One of the most impactful ways where Quality really makes a difference, costs you nothing but time! Taking enough time to transition calves successfully onto Calf Milk Replacer (CMR), taking the time to slowly transition to once-a-day feeding, gradual transition off milk at weaning and a gradual reduction of meal when the time comes, will all make an enormous difference to the quality of your heifers. A handy rule of thumb is to take 7-14 days for each change to happen to allow animals the time to adjust to the next stage of growth and development.
Every calf on farm requires an investment of your time and money. Spending those resources wisely is more important now than ever to maximise animal health and farm finances. Are you making sure every cent counts?
Do you really need to keep all the replacement calves you are rearing right now? Would it make more sense to sell some calves now, reducing the number of mouths to feed? This isn’t the year to keep extra replacements ‘just in case’. Use top-quality resources on your top-quality calves to avoid unnecessary spending and maximise animal health and farm finances.
Stragglers and Poor Doers
Every year, particularly when we do our vaccination runs, we see calves that are significantly smaller or scruffier than the rest of the mob. We are often told that someone else on farm ‘fell in love with them’ and wanted to ‘give them a chance’ (in my experience the kids often get the blame here, but I have a suspicion that it isn’t always the young ones who make that call!) It can be frustrating for farmers and vet alike seeing these same animals pre-mating, still falling behind and not achieving mating weight. This year, more than ever, it is time to think about what these calves are costing you – and at what expense to the rest of the mob!
How many do you and your staff really need? These animals are taking up valuable resources of milk, meal, grass, vaccinations, and of course staff time that might be better spent elsewhere. Beefies are undeniably an important part of many workers’ contracts. Of course, you want the beefies you raise to be the healthiest they can be, but it might be a good year to check how many you really need to be raising – you might be surprised at the money you can save.
Quality feed – milk and meal
It is often said that you get what you pay for. Trying to save money by buying poorer quality Calf Milk Replacer (CMR) or lower quality calf meal will likely cost you more in the long run (or even the short run!) Rather than buying lower quality product, make sure your calf numbers are spot on, so you can concentrate your efforts on your best animals. Feeding fewer animals, a high-quality feed will be much more cost-effective as they grow. Don’t be tempted to take shortcuts here – we have seen some disasters over the years when feed quality isn’t up to scratch.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, worm drenching is another area where cheaper doesn’t mean better value. Making sure you are purchasing high-quality drench products, backed by research, is key to effective worm treatment while also reducing the risk of drench resistance getting worse.
A great way of reducing your drench costs, is only to drench when it is necessary and only to drench the animals that need treatment. There are a few options if you want to reduce the amount of drench you are using across a season – you can use Faecal Egg Counting (FEC) to check if your calves are carrying a worm burden that requires treatment (FEC costs $16.50 exc. GST per faecal sample, with a discount of 10% for more than 4 samples) or you can implement a Targeted Selected Treatments (TST) programme. A TST programme involves monthly weighing to assess which animals are achieving growth targets (these animals are left untreated) and those not reaching target weight are drenched.
These strategies have the potential to save you money by reducing the amount of drench you use over the season and maximise animal health and farm finances. Talk to your vet if you would like more information on how these approaches can work for you.
Scours and other illnesses
Scours (and other illnesses) don’t only affect young calves. Older calves get hit with bouts of diarrhoea too. Just like the younger calves, there are a range of different bacteria (e.g., Yersinia), viruses (e.g., BVD) and parasites (Coccidia and Cryptosporidium as well as worms) that can cause scours in older calves. The stress of weaning will often exacerbate these infections.
While the older calves tend to be more resilient than their younger counterparts, it still doesn’t pay to wait too long before starting the correct treatment. Of course, to know which treatment is needed, you need to know what’s causing the scours in the first place. As with younger calves, the best strategy is to collect fresh faecal samples directly from the calves most recently affected before they receive any treatment. You can either do this yourself or call your vet to examine the calves and develop a plan with you. The samples will be sent to Anexa’s laboratory where the relevant microbiology & parasitology testing is carried out.
As with any scouring animal, electrolyte therapy to replace fluids lost through diarrhoea and reduced appetite are crucial for a speedy recovery.
Weaning is a critical time in a dairy animal’s life. Successful weaning really does lay the foundation for a productive life. Choosing Quality over Quantity will not only save money now but will protect your long-term investment for years to come. If you need any advice about raising quality youngstock, talk to the team in your local Anexa clinic – we are here to help.
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