‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’ for Tatura dairy farm’s calf rearing program

By Rodney Woods

Hygiene and cleanliness are the keys to successful calf rearing, according to Tatura's Phil Lang.

Mr Lang, along with brother Markus and parents Werner and Josy, rear up to 200 calves at a time — 100 in each shed, as part of their three-farm, 3000-Holstein and crossbred cow operation across 1500 ha.

The Langs rear their calves in pens of five, mainly due to one particular reason.

“Groups of five are small enough groups to keep a good eye on and keep track of individual calves,” Mr Lang said.

“Also, our favourite kind of feeders come in with five teats on them.”

The Holstein calves spend eight weeks in the sheds, where they are firstly fed colostrum, before turning to fresh milk for the second half of their shed stay.

“The calves come in once a day and are given tested quality colostrum as soon as they come into the shed,” Mr Lang said.

“After that, they are just fed milk from freshly calved cows.

“They are fed twice a day for the first three weeks and back to once a day for another four weeks after that.

“Grain is always available, and we have a bit of roughage as well always available and clean fresh water also available.”

Mr Lang said the family used sawdust and straw for bedding and preparing the pens takes about an hour.

“The sheds are modular and have concrete floors with holes drilled in the floor so all the panels just drop in,” he said.

“So, it takes about an hour to set up for 100 cows.”

After the eight weeks is over, another batch of calves enter, but not before a thorough cleaning.

“So, it’s batch in, batch out,” Mr Lang said.

“Once the calves have left then it takes a few hours to strip everything down, the front end loader cleans out all the straw and we pressure wash everything and put everything back in again.”

On top of hygiene and cleanliness, Mr Lang said colostrum management was also important to a successful calf rearing operation.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness they say,” he said.

“Clean equipment, clean sheds and a well ventilated shed (are all important) and the new sheds let us keep everything clean.

“Also, colostrum management — it's important to do a good job on that.

“Any calves that ever do get sick, we isolate them so we're not spreading disease around.”

Mr Lang said the biggest challenge for disease prevention was a wet season.

“We really see when the weather's good and the cows are in good order, when the calving paddocks are clean and dry as well, then calves comes in clean and dry and healthy and the sheds are clean and dry, there's not much trouble.

“We have our biggest trouble in wet conditions but we haven't had too many of those lately.”