Probiotics put zip in calves’ skip

By Country News

Hooper Farms has eliminated antibiotic use in its calf shed after introducing a potent new probiotic range to its operation.

The sizable family operation milks 1500 cows through three dairies on 1416ha at Winnindoo, near Heyfield in Gippsland.

Aside from rearing 1300 calves a year, the family grows crops, farms 400000 chickens, and owns and operates a quarry.

The busy group is headed up by John and Chris Hooper, together with their sons, Brendan and Nick, and Nick’s partner, Elly Baranowski.

Structured calf rearing

The calves are reared in a 21mx54m purpose-built shed, with three Holm and Laue automatic calf feeders and 12 feeding stalls.

The shed design allows for new calves to spend their first three days being hand-fed before they join a small group as they learn to master the automatic calf feeders.

The calves’ next step is to join a bigger group with indoor/outdoor living and access to lucerne hay and ad lib grain.

At this point they are separated by breed and size into three groups: Holstein, Angus-Holstein cross, and Jersey and smaller Jersey-cross calves.

Their replacement-herd roommates will not change until they are all three years old, when they join the mature herd in the main dairy — a 50-stand rotary — or the Jersey herd on another property.

Optimising feed-conversion rates

Ms Baranowski manages the calf pens, and said they began using BioBoost probiotic paste and BioCalf probiotic powder at the end of last spring, because it was a tough season to find quality feed, and they wanted to make the most of the calves’ feed-conversion rates.

Of the 300 calves they reared in that batch, just three died. It gave them a one per cent mortality rate.

Ms Baranowski said the reasons behind using the products were the fact she resonated with the science, the progress in the probiotic space and the tightening focus on antibiotic use.

BioCalf offered her double the colony forming units (CFUs) of its nearest competitor, along with five digestive enzymes and active live yeast; it was the only product to include an extract from the plant Yucca schidigera, which helps control coccidiosis.

All calves were given an oral dose of BioBoost paste when they entered the calf shed, along with their colostrum, which was tested for quality with a refractometer. They also fed BioCalf probiotic powder in the calves’ milk until weaning at 100 days.

Eliminating antibiotics

‘‘I think they’d been on the probiotics for a week, when I drove past and I really noticed how their coats were starting to shine, and you could just see the difference. It was crazy,’’ Ms Baranowski said.

‘‘Now we’ve gone away from using any antibiotics on the calves that have scours, and replaced that protocol with the daily addition of the powder in the milk, supported by an oral dose of the paste if they look unwell.

‘‘Honestly, I can’t say a bad word about the two products. We’re definitely putting out better calves.

‘‘We shifted a mob of autumn calves the other day, and then went and shifted the late-spring calves that had been raised on the BioCalf, and the younger calves were just as big as the older ones. I didn’t expect to see such a marked difference.’’

Happier calves

Ms Baranowski has also noticed several small changes in the calf pens that gave her additional confidence.

‘‘The calves seem to be playing with each other more, because they just seem to have more energy, and they just seem happy within themselves.’’

The probiotics have completed a circle and given the calf-rearing team confidence on the big operation.

Sanitation is key

To help sanitise pens during the calf-rearing season, they use Danish sanitiser Stalosan F, which Ms Baranowski said was underrated in Australia.

The product has a pH of below four, and its non-toxic powder works because it includes high levels of copper and iron oxide — well-known antimicrobials. The unique combination of minerals binds up to 100 per cent moisture where ammonia is present.

‘‘Our sanitising products go twice as far for half the price of the competitors and we get the same kill,’’ Ms Baranowski said.

Hooper Farms is poised to fit cleaning stations to the automatic feeders as the final piece of the hygiene puzzle.

Ms Baranowski and valued staff member Tania Hague spend roughly two hours a day feeding their calves. It’s a welcome change from the physicality of the workload they used to shoulder.

‘‘We wanted to do the best we could for the calves and everything we have in place now requires a lot less physical work, and it’s far more rewarding because we’re now getting the results we want,’’ Ms Baranowski said.