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Calf rearing farm visits

July 31, 2008

After a one week break we had another session of the livestock health course that my wife and I are doing on Thursdays. This was the last session we have for about 6 weeks - they're livestock health people so they know that no-one has any spare time over the busy calving period!

Today's session was different to the other ones we've done. We got to go out and visit some farms rather than sit in the classroom, and the visits lasted just 2.5 hours rather than the 4-5 hours we normally have.

The topic of the day was calf rearing, and we visited three different farms to look and learn about their calf rearing facilities.

I guess all three farms had fairly similar systems really - sheltered pens to protect the calves from the weather, different pens for different aged calves and small water troughs that the calves can't fall into.

All of the farms start their young calves on warm colostrum milk for a few days and then generally use cold milk and a calf-feed supplement as they get older.

It was interesting to see that the first two farms put wood shavings on the pen floors and the last farm used wood chips instead. We use neither of these things on the farm we work on - apparantly because you need to put the wood shavings/chips directly on top of dirt floor for drainage whereas we have wooden gratings with grated plastic mats on top instead. Maybe our setup is a little less warmer but it should be easier to keep clean as you can just hose them out.

The setup at the third farm was also interesting in that the calves were kept in a big "tent" rather than a shed. It had solid walls up to about a metre high then had some sort of white plastic or synthetic walls and ceiling above that. It was nice and warm inside due to a sort of greenhouse effect and I imagine that keeps the calves nice and healthy in the winter but the owner said it can get a bit too hot later in spring (then they have to open up two sides to get some cool airflow going).

It was an interesting few hours and helps to put things in perspective as our calf numbers start increasing over the coming days.

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