VITA Super Start doing the job

Farming the area surrounding the Clwyd estuary not far from the seaside town of Rhyl in Denbighshire, North Wales, Huw Jones runs 1,500 acres across his dairy and arable operations at Pengwern Farm, Rhuddlan.

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Together with his wife Helen and two daughters Elin and Lisa, Huw runs a herd of 550 Holsteins, yielding 10,300 kg/cow. With a sizable acreage, the herd is virtually self-sufficient in feed, growing 300 acres of maize and 700 acres put to wheat, barley and oilseed rape, with the remaining ground used for grazing and silage production.

Milk is sold to Muller, destined for Coop, and has a 4.08% butterfat and 3.39% protein content with a cell count of 130. An autumn block calving system, cows calve from 1 August until the end of January which Huw says fits into the work requirements of the arable side of the business along with his milk contract requirements.

The herd is mainly housed, except for 150 low yielders, being those giving 30kg or less, which go out to graze in the summer months.

Sexed semen is used with 170 heifers served from 1 November, as well as some of the cows, with Genus identifying heats and serving cows on the Reproductive Management Systems service. Remaining females are put to beef semen, whether British Blue, Limousin or Aberdeen Angus with calves sold before 43 days of age either off-farm or at market.

Dry cows are housed in cubicles and moved into straw yards before calving. Every calf receives four litres of colostrum within six to eight hours before being moved to an individual pen. Here, calves receive their mother’s second milk and then move on to ForFarmers’ VITAMILK Premium calf milk powder.

Calves are fed twice per day at 180g CMR/litre by staff members Grace Evans and Harry Windsor, or Lisa, and receive 2.5 to 3.5 litres per feed. Aided by a Milk Taxi manufactured by German firm, Holm and Laue, the machine can carry up to 300 litres of milk and 350 calves could need feeding at the peak of calving. Calves are individually penned initially and when drinking well enough, will go into larger pens in groups of 12 at about a week old, with beef and dairy calves kept separately.

They are band weighed at birth and ForFarmers’ Senior Ruminant Specialist for North Wales, Buddug Jones, weighs them on an electric scales at two to three weeks old. They will then be weaned at around eight weeks old, depending on weight, aiming for 85-90kg at this stage.

Huw says: “For the last three years, Buddug has come out and weighed the calves, ensuring they are putting on 0.8kg to 1kg each day. She then advises on diets and weaning which has been really helpful. We were feeding VITA Start, now known as VITA Super Start with its extra starch and have seen the calves thrive not just in terms of weight but also how healthy they look.”

Calves feeding on vitamilk

Calves are offered straw straight away alongside ad-lib VITA Super Start until the point of weaning and then mixed with a 21% crude protein rearer until four months of age alongside straw.

Buddug says: “Calves are achieving 83kg by 56 days (eight weeks old), exceeding our target of 74kg. They are averaging a DLWG between 19 and 70 days old at 0.83kg, against our target of 0.8kg. We recently weighed a group of calves at five to six months old with an average weight of 210kg, meaning a 0.8 to 1kg DLWG since birth, which is really encouraging.”

The farm’s nutritional advice is provided by Neil Blackburn of Kite Consulting. A separate TMR is made for youngstock, consisting of 3kg haylage, 3kg maize, 3kg heifer blend, 0.75kg straw and molasses which they receive 10-11kg/head initially. The blend is made up of rape, molasses, wheat feed, youngstock minerals, barley and wheat distillers.

Huw adds: “We also put a new shed up to house calves until weaning, with tube ventilation which has also helped. We have so many calves as such a rate that bugs can build up so the increase in air movement is really helpful.”

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