In this article on www.thatsfarming.com, Anna Truesdale CAFRE, discusses key preparations with one Co Down dairy farmer Stephen Wallace, Heenandale farm, Seaforde.
Mid-September and Stephen Wallace is just starting to get into the thick of calving his Autumn herd.
With nearly 200 cows to calve in the next 3 months, Wallace knows that preparation, organisation, and communication are key to a smooth calving season on his farm.
Having invested in a new, but simple, calf-housing system over the last few years, the farm at Heenandale has managed to overcome a number of issues often faced during a calving season.
Cows have been vaccinated and there are facilities on the farm to test and freeze good quality colostrum, full of antibodies for protection against calf scours.
The house has been well rested, power hosed and disinfected. Hurdle pens are constructed and waiting to be freshly bedded when needed.
Wallace uses hurdle pens to house single calves in the first few days.
This, he says, allows the calf the opportunity to learn how to suckle without the threat of bullying from other calves in the group, and allows for a closer eye to be kept on them over the first critical period.
From here, they will move to group pens – which will reduce labour requirements at feeding – where they suckle through a compartmentalised-10-teat-feeder.
The gates at the front of the group pens have been modified to allow access to small water troughs and have been designed in such a way that calves are not able to bully along the teat feeder once they have finished their share of the milk.
Wallace knows that the calving season can be labour-intensive and has taken steps to ensure the next few months run as smoothly as possible.
Top tips and must-haves
Here are a few of Stephens’s top tips and must-haves to get ahead during calving:
- Keeping ropes and calving aids clean and always within reach of the calving pen;
- Having a good calving gate;
- Calving cameras;
- Having a fridge and freezer in the calf-house for colostrum;
- A washing line for calf coats to dry;
- Hot water in the calf house;
- A milk taxi;
- A whiteboard to easily communicate instructions around feeding.
Attention to detail during the latter part of the dry period and around calving will help prepare the autumn-calving cow for her subsequent lactation and minimise potential production and health problems.
Aim for a smooth calving season; planning should include a review, not only of nutrition but also accommodation for calving cows and calves.
Cow and calve health are paramount during this period with preventative action always better than cure treatments.
Cow welfare with a particular emphasis on labour requirements and your own physical health is important during the busy calving period.
Time spent servicing equipment, acquiring essential supplies, and developing critical management protocols will pay dividends on your farm.
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