When Jerry Austin and his wife Cathy moved to Simon Martin Farms at Droxford, Hampshire in March 2015 one of the key areas they identified for improvement was calf rearing. “If you do the heifers better they are easier to get in calf, last longer in the herd, have lower vet bills and give more milk,” says Jerry. “Heifer rearing is an investment in the future – not a cost.”
They plan to rear more calves on the farm in future so attention to detail in the calf unit will be vital. And one key area they have addressed is coccidia and cryptosporida control.
The herd was just under 300 spring block calving cows on a grazing-based system when they moved to Wallops Wood Dairy in March 1015. They plan to increase to 380 by this spring. The cows are a mixture of Holstein, British Friesian, Swedish Red and Jersey breeds and start calving at the beginning of February for a 12-week period. Yields average 7,000 litres using 1.5 tonnes of concentrate.
Initially all heifer calves were reared and beef crosses and bull calves sold at two to three weeks. But in future they intend to rear all the beef heifers and most of the dairy bulls so the number of calves reared will be 250 to 300 a year.
Bulls and beef calves are reared in batches of five in hutches and fed waste milk through teat feeders. Heifers go into sheds in groups of 10 and are fed milk powder. Then they are moved into a yard in groups of 45 on teat feeders. They are weaned at eight weeks.
The calves are bedded with straw every day and have access to fresh water and clean straw.
“The farm was the first commercial dairy unit in the UK to introduce VitCox to control coccidia and cryptosporida in the spring of 2016,” explains Robert Hamilton from manufacturer Vitfoss. “The disease is caused by parasites that invade intestinal cells where they multiply and the cells are destroyed. Mucosal wounds develop and the calf develops diarrhoea."
“VitCox is a natural plant extract that reduces the load from parasites and protects the intestinal cell wall. No prescription is required, there is no retention time and it can be used on organic farms.”
In spring of 2015 the Austin’s used an oral drench to treat the disease. In 2016 they introduced VitCox, which is mixed into the morning milk feed and they have found it easier to use and cheaper. For prevention it is fed at a rate of s per head for 30 days. For treatment it can be given directly to the calf by mouth and is recommended at seven ml per head for seven days. “We are using a preventative dose of VitCox on all the calves,” adds Jerry. “It helps the calves’ appetite and they are healthier. Growth rates are better and the heifers are now 50kg heavier by 12 months of age.”