Early weight gain for calves pays off

Introducing ad-lib feeding for dairy calves helps boost pre-weaning weight gain and profitability of the herd says Lely vet and Head of Farm Management Support Mike Steele. It’s no surprise then, that he is a big fan of the Lely Calm calf feeder, which makes ad-lib feeding and monitoring of calves easy!

Cow health


“The two biggest influences on milk yield in the first lactation are birth weight and pre-wean weight gain,” explains Mike Steele. “The first is down to genetics, but the second is totally to do with feeding management.”

He advises farms to invest in the Lely Calm automatic calf feeder, which not only prepares and delivers milk powder to the individual calf, but with the addition of the optional weight bracket, will also weigh and monitor calf growth. “The weight bracket is a little extra investment, but in my opinion is totally worth it and will show you the growth and value of ad-lib feeding.”

High pre-wean weights are directly linked to improved lactation persistency, he explains. “With cows, milk yields decline much more steeply after they reach peak production than heifers. Heifers that have achieved high pre-weaning weights will overtake older cows earlier and produce higher yields for longer in their lactation and are therefore more profitable.”

Ad-lib feeding brings other benefits too including reduced susceptibility to disease. “There is data from research in Canada that showed that when compared to twice a day feeding calves that were fed ab-lib were less likely to get diarrhoea and pneumonia. They are more robust.”

Weaning age itself is not a particularly important factor, says Mike. “Many farms traditionally have an age that they wean but really as long as it is between eight and 12 weeks and you continue with good nutrition it is fine. There is general agreement that calves should be eating 1.25kg concentrates by the time they are weaned. They can reach that by eight weeks, but you would only know that if you’re monitoring closely. Assuming you are monitoring intakes it means that weaning age can be an economic decision based on the price of milk powder versus the price of concentrates.”

Farms that use Calm can also access the ‘40 Fit’ programme which automatically weans calves by decreasing milk powder over time while concentrate intake increases.

Mike concludes: “Those early stages of a calf’s life are so important to her performance once she joins the milking herd. I highly recommend that farms consider the Lely Calm to automate the process with minimal labour requirements and give them the best chance of reaching their potential.”

To find out more about Lely Calm visit https://www.lely.com/gb/solutions/feeding/calm/