Clinical and on-farm trials prove the value of a calf nutrition programme
A Hawke’s Bay dairy farmer who has increased milk production by 100,000kg last year, attributes much of that growth to the use of a probiotic calf feeding system that enhances the nutritional value of milk.
Takapau farmer Donald Fraser started using the Queen of Calves calf nutrition programme three years ago when he and wife Karen opted out of sheep and cattle farming and ventured into dairying.
Looking for rapid results, the Frasers started using Queen of Calves in their first year, based on the advice of their farm manager.
“We trialled it with 300 calves and got on average 340kgs of production per cow in their first lactation.
“That’s an extra 50-60kgs above average and, at $8 a kg, that return’s worth having.”
Now running 1,500 cows producing around 600,000kgs of milk solids last year, Don says the Queen of Calves-fed heifers produced in their first year just five percent less than their mature herd-mates.
“Normally you’d have expected a 20-30 percent difference in production. Our staff on the farm, some of whom have been dairying for nearly 20 years, were amazed at the results.”
A drop in projected payouts forced the Frasers to curtail their investment in Queen of Calves in their second year.
“In hindsight that was a false economy. It was like cutting back on fertiliser – definitely the wrong thing to do - and we quickly reinstated the product.
“We’re always looking for ways to increase milk production and basically there’s only two ways to do it. Increase the herd size, which can have some herd management pitfalls, or increase per-head output.
“We’ve done both and Queen of Calves has certainly helped increase output. It’s our way of working smarter, not harder.”
Another unexpected but very pleasant benefit was the nil empty rate among the 218, year-2008 calves that were reared on Queen of Calves.
The average empty rate among Kiwi herds is at least 10%, with some consultants saying that’s a very conservative estimate, so the Frasers were understandably ecstatic with this result.
Their results are reinforced by clinical trials that Massey University has been running on the Queen of Calves nutrition programme.
The trials were led by Massey’s major leader of animal science, Dr Jean Margerison, who has just returned from New Orleans where she presented the findings to the American Dairy Science Association.
In a controlled trial involving 40 animals, her research shows Queen of Calves increased milk production by 12 percent.
Supporting her results – and the Frasers’ findings – are actual on-farm survey data involving a further 6,900 cows over two lactation cycles.
This data showed that farms using the product increased milk production by as much as 18 percent.
“We’ve been very happy with our numbers,” says Don. “And like most farmers, we’re scrutinising costs against revenue extremely carefully. Queen of Calves isn’t cheap and we’re not going to use it if doesn’t pay its way or add value to the farm.”
Queen of Calves is manufactured by farming products supply company, Bell-Booth Limited.
Statistics show Queen of Calves can produce an extra 49kg of additional milks solids per heifer in the first lactation and an additional $367 of revenue per calf.
It achieves these returns for a per-calf investment of just $60 more than traditional feeding methods.
The Massey research also found Queen of Calves increased daily growth rates by more than 10 percent, reduced time to weaning by about 8 days and produced significantly bigger calves at 12 weeks of age.
Calves reared on it required 9 percent less whole milk to reach target weight and required 16 percent less pellet feed to achieve target weight.
Don acknowledges, however, that he was sceptical of the product at first - “everyone’s always trying to sell you something” – and he was only persuaded by the strong recommendation of their farm manager who had used it before, coupled with Karen’s enthusiastic support for its introduction on the farm.
“It was Karen’s call to use the product. I looked at the costs versus revenue economics, but she looked at it more holistically, especially the health effects on the calves.
“Her view was that if Queen of Calves improved overall herd health, meaning reduced herd management work and costs, it was worth it. She’s been proven right on that score.”
Manufacturer of the product, Stephen Bell-Booth, says many dairy farmers are using the Queen of Calves nutrition programme. The actual volume is commercially sensitive. He anticipates usage will jump by 50 percent a year as more farmers experience the various benefits of using the system.
“Queen of Calves has the potential to change quite dramatically the financial viability of New Zealand’s dairy herd,” he says.