Our calves are all AI produced and reared on farm. All female calves are kept and the bull calves are either sold to Midfield Meats for the veal or bull beef markets, or are sold to other farmers looking for paddock bulls. These bulls are registered (where possible) through Holstein Australia.
At birth, each heifer calf is allocated a 4 digit number which she retains for life. As a calf, this number is displayed as an ear tag, later to be matched to an NLIS tag (prior to leaving the calving facility) and eventually a collar (when she enters the milking shed for the first time). A file on the main computer is created for each calf (heifers and bulls) so that we can trace each calf back to a dam and sire.
In 2006 we purpose built a calving facility for our increased calving numbers. The facility allow us to house 16 calves individually (or if pressed, we can double them up to 32) and 4 group pens of 20 calves each. In total, we can house in excess of 100 calves in the shed.
The calves enter the calving facility at a maximum of 24hrs old. Those that arrive before suckling off their mum, are given colostrum over the first few feed. The majority however, as left on their mums until they have had a couple of good feeds (observed) and when they enter the facility, go straight into whole milk.
On arrival into the calf facility, each baby is housed in an individual pen until they display effective feeding before being moved to a group plan. A group pen is kept in the shed for as long as it takes to make up a group of 20. This group is monitored for uniform feeding behaviour, size and aggression. When this is established, they are moved to one of the calving paddocks where they are kept as a small group until weaning.
Calves are fed 4 litres of milk once a day and ad lib water. Pellets and hay are introduced from day 2 – 4. Once in a group pen, calves have free access to hay, grain and water.
Weaning occurs when the calves reach 120kg body weight and occurs over a 7 – 10 day period. At this point, the calves are fully fed on supplementary grain pellets, hay (if required) in addition to pasture.
In 2017, we used twilight sedation for the first time to dehorn the calves. This method ensures the calf feels absolutely nothing when being dehorned and the administration of pain relief whilst under, means that they are comfortable and pain free on waking. The process, whilst more expensive per calf, is a game changer for us in managing this process from the point of staff, animal management and the ability to undertake a number of procedures at the same time. It also fits in with our animal health and welfare goals within the business.