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The best possible start for youngstock

Disease? Not On My Farm! Ambassador Blog
Gemma & Mike King

Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassadors, Gemma and Mike King, milk up to 120 cows at Old Green Farm Dairy near Bristol. In this blog, Gemma explains her passion for disease prevention and why colostrum management is her top priority when it comes to youngstock rearing.

Colostrum is gold

“We operate a closed herd, with block calving over the summer, and a smaller block in February. All our replacements are born the last week June into the first few weeks of July.

As a ‘townie’ I joined the farm as a total novice 15 years ago when Mike and I married. Today, I am responsible for rearing all the youngstock, so disease prevention starts with me.To make sure our calves get off to the best possible start, we have introduced a controlled colostrum feeding programme.

Good colostrum is key to scour control as it provides greater immunity, so we harvest and freeze the colostrum so there’s a plentiful supply. 

Prior to feeding newborn calves, the quality of the colostrum is measured using a refractometer to ensure it has a Brix value above 22% to give the required level of antibody protection. We also keep a stock of powdered colostrum so we can boost any milk that’s a little bit on the low side.

It’s important to ensure that calves receive at least two litres in the first hour after birth. We’ve extended our colostrum feeding, so I make sure the newborns have at least two doses of colostrum, my target is for between three – six litres within the first three hours of birth to help build their immune system. The sooner they receive it the better, as it makes such a difference to the calves’ development.

Our rigorous colostrum protocol is all down to our vet’s input. She has done a lot as a youngstock ambassador and has worked closely with us to get them started off properly. She’s been a great help and its one of the best things we’ve ever done.

I firmly believe getting the calves off to a good start means we’ll finish with a productive cow. This year, we’ve had 30 beautiful, healthy heifers come through to the dairy herd.

Dedicated to youngstock

It’s key to have a youngstock manager who can provide consistency to how calves are reared. As individuals, you tend to do things slightly differently, but if someone is responsible for setting standards and managing protocols, it can help avoid making any unnecessary changes to the daily routine.

Image of a dairy calf on a farm

This is especially true when it comes to changing feed rations and mixing ratio. This is the first thing that can upset the calves and increase the chance of nutritional scouring.

I have my daily routine where I feed them, bed them, change their water and their concentrate. Sticking to this has been a massive benefit. I’ll always notice something different about my calves before it becomes too much of an issue. That’s best practice in my opinion.

Our farm motto: prevention is better than cure.

We’re incredibly fortunate, the last time we had a case of a calf with pneumonia was about 7-8 years ago. I truly believe this is because of our focus on prevention, not cure.

As part of our efforts to reduce disease risk, we do a full antibacterial clean down of the pens between calves. Having rigorous hygiene protocols in place is such an important part of our preventative approach and has paid dividends.

Regular assessments and diagnostics are integral to how we operate the dairy so advances in this area are helping to give dairy farmers greater peace of mind.

In terms of disease prevention, we also carry out BVD testing on all the calves when they are tagged, this automatically takes a skin sample for analysis. Thankfully, BVD has not been a major concern. We last had a couple of PI’s about 10 years ago.

When the heifers go out to grass in the Spring, they are vaccinated for Husk (lungworm) but other than that, our inputs are fairly low.

I think the key things for me are having a dedicated youngstock manager and good colostrum management – these were real game changers for us. Personally, the most rewarding aspect of my role is knowing you’re building a healthy herd that will continue to produce a quality product.

As we sell milk directly to the public, being able to show them the care and high welfare standards that go into producing the milk they buy is reassuring to us and them.”

Image of Disease? Not On My Farm! ambassadors Mike and Gemma King

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