Effective system essential

By Sophie Baldwin

Milking big numbers of cows means rearing big numbers of calves.

And that is certainly the case for the Goulburn Valley Creamery at Undera.

The business milks 1100 cows and calves four to five times a year — a good calf-rearing system is an extremely important part of management.

Farm manager Geoff Old said the business had a dedicated calf-rearing shed, which houses calves in small pens of six.

They are housed on beds of pine shavings.

‘‘We have tried most things from rice hulls to straw and we have found the shavings drain the best and the calves don’t try to eat them,’’ Mr Old said.

Calf rearing is a year-round job and in the peak up to 20 heifer calves can enter the shed a day.

They are fed milk twice a day and introduced to a calf muesli as soon as possible.

‘‘We did trial milk powder, but we found that was to expensive, so we have gone back to milk.’’

Once they are eating the muesli well they begin to mix it with pellets and gradually convert the calves over to pellets.

‘‘Our calves are fed twice a day for a month and then once a day for the next four to six weeks. We like to wean them around 125kg because we feel that is a good size, any lighter and it’s a bit harder,’’ he said.

The majority of the herd is made up of Friesians, but there are a few Brown Swiss thrown in for good measure. Sexed semen is used on the heifers.

‘‘We like to get the calves out of the shed as early as we can, but over the winter months we keep them inside for as long as possible — we don’t have enough shelter or sheds in the paddocks,’’ Mr Old said.

Getting colostrum into the calves as soon as they are born is a priority, as is good hygiene.

The shed has a cement bay with drainage and hot water and all the feeders are washed out and dried after each use.

The shed is cleaned and disinfected after every batch of calves, but like most farmers, Mr Old would love to see a bigger shed.

‘‘It can get pretty full in here at times. We have a calf rearer in every day of the year and things can get very busy when we have up to 20 new calves a day to teach and feed.’’