Fine-tune your calf rearing for improved performance


Fine tuning calf rearing with small, continual changes can lead to significant overall improvement, by Ailsa Milnes a vet at #Calfmatters, a proud sponsor of Women in Dairy.

What is Calfmatters Fine Tuning?

Throughout 2020 #Calfmatters is urging farmers to make lots of small, continuous changes on-farm which will add up to make significant improvements in calf wellbeing, health and performance. “Fine tuning what you - and the rest of the farm team do - minimises variation and improves performance efficiency,” says Dr Milnes. “And this approach can really pay dividends in the calf rearing section of the business.

Calf growth rate variations

“Studies have shown that variation in calf growth rates within a farm can be greater than the variation between farms. However, by standardising protocols and the way everyone works by making small changes, it should be possible to make lots of small improvements throughout the system. When added up over the life of the calf, these make a real difference to growth rates and finishing times, and therefore economic performance,” Dr Milnes adds. The concept is referred to as ‘lean management’ and is strongly associated with the car industry. As its heart, is the aim to improve the efficiency of work methods, processes and operations at the same time as standardising what is done. At a recent Women in Dairy meeting held at Hartpury College near Gloucester, the group discussed this principle and shared many hints and tips from their own farms, many of which were simple and relatively straightforward. “At the meeting, we talked about understanding your system - what’s slowing down productivity (are calves robust and able to withstand health challenges) or preventing something from happening at all (using vaccination and calf jackets, for example),” she explains further. “With so many variables – and all dairy units and calf rearing systems being unique to these individual herds and set ups – the sector is ripe for the lean management treatment,” Dr Milnes adds and, as part of #Calfmatters’ 2020 campaign, more hints and tips are being sought from anyone rearing calves.

Calfmatters top tips competition

Share your best hints and tips with #Calfmatters via the website and the most useful ones will be compiled these into a handy guide to be shared with farmers throughout the country. And everyone who does will be in with the chance to win a fantastic Cosy Calf calf jacket or a racetrack day. Simply submit your top tip here. “Some are already up on the website in the form of short films which talk about factors ranging from colostrum intake to being observant and from housing cleanliness to recording all aspects of performance,” Dr Milnes remarks. “Ultimately, the principle is all about detail – this could be as simple as printing out and putting up a protocol for everyone to see or having a calving kit trolley with everything you need kept in it,” she adds. “Some really successful examples have taken it as far as to have their own calving trolley “parking spaces” and a special calf wheelbarrow which is also set up for easy calf weighing. The limitations are really only our imaginations and we really look forward to hearing from as many producers involved in calf rearing in the coming weeks,” Dr Milnes concludes.

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