Philip Stewart, along with his family, manages an impressive farming enterprise in Co. Longford, farming around 240 acres of tillage and 300 acres of grassland. Their dairy calf-to-beef enterprise takes center stage in the operation.
Besides their busy farming schedule, Philip runs a successful farming-focused YouTube channel, where he is known as ‘Farmer Phil.’ Additionally, he is involved in the family’s agri-contracting business, providing machinery services to farmers in the surrounding area.
Last week, we covered Philip’s cattle operation, and now we’ll delve into calf rearing on his farm.
Calf Rearing on Farmer Phil’s Farm
During this year, the farm successfully reared over 350 dairy-bred calves, primarily Friesian and Jersey-cross bulls, with a smaller number of Speckle Park, Angus, Belgian Blue, Aubrac, Limousin, and Hereford calves also being purchased.
Philip mentioned that all the calves are purchased from nearby farmers with whom the Stewarts also engage in agri-contracting work.
The calves arrive on the farm when they are approximately 10-12 days old, starting from mid-February.
When a dairy farmer has around 20 calves ready for collection, Philip and his team will collect them.
Philip explained: “We collect all the Friesian and Jersey bull calves and a few good ones from other breeds as well.
“We are bargain buyers. We don’t go in and pick the good ones and leave the small ones. We go in, drop the ramp and we take all. We always work off the policy ‘the cheaper we can get them, the better’.”
Philip relies on automatic calf feeders, which he finds to be a huge time saver. Upon arrival, a dedicated station of the robotic calf feeder is cordoned off for the new arrivals, usually around 20 calves.
After a few feeds, the calves become familiar with the feeder and are then integrated into the larger group of calves in the shed. All calves receive their first vaccination one day after arriving.
Throughout the rearing stage, the calves are fed milk replacer for a total of 64 days. Their milk consumption gradually increases from 4 liters per day to 7 liters by day 12.
The calves are kept on 7 liters of milk for 20 days and are then slowly weaned off.
Each calf on the farm receives approximately 320 liters of milk during the rearing stage.
Philip explained: “When they start coming off milk, we watch them. If they have the correct body condition, we continue with the weaning process. If they don’t have adequate condition, we keep them on milk replacer.”
For bedding, the farm uses winter barley straw grown on-site.
“As soon as we have a batch of 20 or 30 calves ready to come off milk, we start our paddock-grazing program for the summer.
“At their peak, our milk feeders put out over 1,000 liters/day. We have to fill them with milk powder twice a day.”
Each feeder generally serves around 150 calves.
When the weather improves, a door at the rear of the shed is opened, allowing the calves to access the grass.
Philip explained: “Since we started letting calves out to grass while still on milk, we have never had a calf that needed to come back in and go back on milk.
“It used to be an awful problem for us. We would have calves doing well, wean them off milk, put them out to grass, and suddenly they would start going backward and need to go back on milk.”
“Calves are given large areas of shed space instead of being penned on the farm.”
“We find they do better when they have a bigger shed with more space.
“Throughout the shed, we place bales of straw to create what we call ‘Chicanes,’ which break any drafts or wind coming through.”
The calf shed is currently being used to store machinery. During winter, there will be weanlings in the calf shed. Before the calves arrive, the weanlings are moved out, and the feeders are brought in to prepare for the calves’ arrival.