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What makes a good rearing system?

Updated: Feb 2


A 2021 study by the University of Nottingham assessed the impact of UK farm management variables in calf rearing on growth rate and disease incidence.




Calves were measured twice by weigh tapes and growth rates were calculated. They recorded specific farm management variables (feeding protocols, building dimensions, temperature etc) and found nearly 300 potential variables, or 'interventions', affecting DLWG. Of these, 20 variables which had the most considerable impacts were found.


Examples of interventions which led to increased DLWG:

  • Increased mean environmental temperature in the first month of life

0.012kg/day per 1C

  • Increased mean volume of milk feeding

0.012kg/day per 1L


The same research group then studied the effect of using these interventions to improve health and production outcomes across farms. The number of positive interventions on the farm were significantly associated with several improved health and production outcomes. An increase of 0.01kg/day ADG was seen per intervention in place, regardless of the intervention.


The number of positive interventions on the farm were significantly associated with several improved health and production outcomes.

A farm with 15 interventions in place may see a DLWG of 0.88kg/day compared to 0.73kg/day for a farm with 4 interventions in place.



So what are these interventions?

  • Clean out calving pens every 30 days

  • Colostrum management

  • Feed at least 3h within 6h of birth

  • Use hypochlorite/pericetic acid to wash collection equipment

  • Collect colostrum prior to milking

  • Test blood, colostrum and colostrum bacteriology

  • Feed saleable milk or CMR at an average of 8L per day or adlib

  • Temperature and environment

  • 100% roof cover

  • Adequate wind protection - such as shelters within calf buildings

  • Insulate walls with straw

  • Heating - consider patio heater lamps

  • General management

  • Clean out group calf pens every 30 days

  • Bed up daily with adequate nesting (so legs cannot be seen lying down)

  • No shared air space between preweaned and weaned calves

  • Disbud at 4 weeks or under

  • Test blood, colostrum and colostrum bacteriology

  • Collect colostrum prior to milking


Try it yourself

Visit the Nottingham herd health toolkit to assess if there are any extra interventions you can carry out on farm and discuss with your vet. https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/herdhealthtoolkit



https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/herdhealthtoolkit


  1. Hyde, R. M., Green, M. J., Hudson, C., & Down, P. M. (2022). Improving growth rates in preweaning calves on dairy farms: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of dairy science, 105(1), 782-792.

  2. R.M. Hyde, M. Green, C. Hudson, P. Down Factors associated with daily weight gain in preweaned calves on dairy farms. Prev. Vet. Med., 190 (2021), Article 105320

  3. https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/herdhealthtoolkit

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