Supporting pre-weaning performance & beyond

Modern housing, careful management and the combined use of two specialist calf feeds are helping to fuel strong growth rates on Drewett Farming Ltd’s calf rearing enterprise.

Drewitt Farming purpose build shed 720

We have the capacity to rear 120 beef calves at any one time on the unit and aim to turn over seven batches of calves each year,” explains Sophie Holder, who is the livestock manager on the Wiltshire based calf enterprise. “We sell animals on at three to four months of age - around 130 kg liveweight - to a range of private beef buyers.

“To hit these targets, we need calves to be achieving an average of 0.8 - 1kg of DLWG and everything is geared around hitting these figures. Like any youngstock unit, feed is a big area of focus for us and we have found that using a specialist calf skimmed milk powder during the pre-weaning phase, along with ad-lib feeding of a 18% protein nut, really gets calves off to a great start. This combination provides a solid foundation for strong growth rates during later life.”

Purpose built rearing unit

Drewett Farming Ltd’s calf rearing unit was built in 2019 on a greenfield site and is operated alongside an arable and forage crop growing enterprise, as well as a flock of 500 breeding Lleyn ewes. Drewett Farming aims to source large batches of calves from individual farms, bringing calves on to the unit at three to four weeks of age. New calves are disbudded and receive Rispoval RS-PI3 Intranasal vaccinations for pneumonia, within their first month on the unit.

“The rearing unit was purpose built, so to help reduce labour requirements, it was designed to enable scraping and bedding to be done mechanically,” explains Sophie.

Beef calf milk powder

“We also benefit from a feed management point of view by having the unit spilt into two distinct parts - with a ‘milk feeding’ section of the unit for pre-weaning calves and a ‘solid feeding’ section for weaned animals."

“The milk feeding portion of the unit is further split into six large bays, with 20 calves in each bay. Three of these bays have access to an automated milk feeder – a Foster Technick – and the other three are have access to a conventional milk bar. There will be a batch of 60 calves feeding via each method at any one time, and each calf is fed 900g of VITAMILK Rearer 22% protein milk powder, per head, per day. This powder is mixed and delivered at a rate of six litres of milk replacer per day, if a calf is being fed by the automatic feeder and four litres per day if they are on the milk bar.”

Weaning the calves onto solid feed

Weaning takes place at eight weeks of age, over a 10-day period and then calves are moved to the ‘solid feeding’ portion of the unit.

“To encourage solid feed intakes pre-weaning, calves are fed ad-lib ForFarmers Calf Complete nuts whilst on milk and also have access to ad-lib barley straw,” says Sophie. “The Calf Complete nuts are 18% protein and we feed them ad-lib until intakes are 4kg per head, per day. This target is usually achieved by about 9-10 weeks of age”

Using a combination of both high-protein nuts and skimmed milk powder has worked well in developing pre-weaning calves and both Sophie and her ForFarmers account manager, Poppy Clark, have been pleased with the results.

Benefits that boost growth

“Sophie has been achieving some really strong DLWG in her calves and much of this success is testament to her excellent management and attention to detail, as well as good feeding,” explains Poppy.

“She has carefully selected calf feed that best suits the rearing unit’s circumstances and production goals. For calf rearing units sourcing calves from different locations, scouring can be a risk factor, but utilising VITAMILK Rearer helps mitigate against this concern. VITAMILK Rearer has a 20% skimmed milk content, which means that it more closely mimics whole milk and is easier to digest. Skimmed milk replacer provides a slow-release energy source that takes around 12 hours to leave a calf’s abomasum - compared to two hours with a whey-based product.

“The Calf Complete nuts do a good job at supporting frame development due to their high protein content, but the addition of Levucell live yeast also has a big production benefit. “Feeding youngstock with live yeast has been proven to aid rumen development, improve rumen efficiency and ease the transition of cattle on to high energy, high starch finishing diets.”

At one-point last year, Sophie did move on to another milk powder but noticed that it didn’t quite match up to the performance of VITAMILK. “The different powder didn’t mix well, made a mess of the automated milker and the calves didn’t look as good” concludes Sophie. “So we’ve reverted back to our ‘standard’ calf feed combination and the calves are doing really well."

“We used to weigh our calves with a weigh band, but we now use electronic scales in order to increase the accuracy of measurements. Calves are weighed as soon as they arrive on the unit and then every three weeks after that, so it is easy for us to spot how well the calves are doing.”