Dairy farmer Neville Kitching of Summerhouse Farm, near Northallerton, has found that using feed supplements has helped to reduce calf mortality.

A NORTH YORKSHIRE farmer has found that using a feed supplement for his calves has helped to reduce calf mortality.

Neville Kitching runs 220 Holstein Friesians at Summerfield Farm, Ingleby Cross, Northallerton, with wife Cath and son, Will. Cows yield 9,500 litres a cow a year at 4.1 per cent fat and 3.2 per cent protein, with all replacements reared on the farm and some dairy cross British Blue sold as stores.

Around 18 months ago, Neville was battling with higher than desirable calf mortality rates and antibiotic usage, which was hitting the bottom line and deflating morale.

Dan Sayers of Mole Country Stores suggested making several changes to calf management to help improve calf environment and reduce stress and also recommended feeding OmniGen-AF.

Including this in calf milk replacer and rearer nuts has reduced calf mortality by 13 per cent and given Neville a new passion for calf rearing that should benefit the lifetime performance of his herd.

The speciality feed supplement is proven to promote natural immune function in light of unexpected and expected stress events, leading to less health issues and reduced medicine use.

At the time, calves were housed in old buildings, which were not specifically designed to meet calf requirements. This meant that ventilation was not as good as it could have been. High stocking rates, together with mixed age groups, were also creating stress factors that were suppressing calf immunity.

Before making any environmental changes, Neville decided to introduce Omnismart calf milk replacer, which includes OmniGen-AF. This was initially fed alongside the farm’s existing 16 per cent calf rearer nut. After a month, the nut was replaced with Ambition 18 per cent calf nuts, which also includes OmniGen-AF.

Neville says they had a lot of problems with mycoplasma in the calves initially, but now they are using the feed supplement, they have significantly reduced their antibiotic use.

Mortality rate and antibiotic usage continued to drop over the six-month farm test period. As a result, Neville has continued to feed both products and calf performance has continued to improve.

“We’ve stuck with it since. It’s working. It’s not too expensive compared to everything else and we’re seeing the results. Calves are doing well on it,” says Neville.

Not as many calves are becoming ill, while those that do get sick require less aggressive antibiotic treatment. They also recover quicker.

Neville says: “They just have better immunity to fight against that bacteria.

“Calves are stronger and we’re using less antibiotics. It is a lot less time and a lot less stress. It’s made life a lot easier.”

Following Dan’s advice, milk feeding rates have also been increased to ensure calves are receiving sufficient nutrients for target growth. Calves are now fed eight litres of CMR per day at 150g/litre to deliver 1,200g of milk solids per calf. This compares to six litres a calf a day at the same feeding rate. Calves are always fed three to four litres of colostrum immediately after birth.

Not spending as much time treating sick calves and witnessing improvements in calf performance has also spurred Neville on to invest. A positive pressure ventilation tube has since been installed in the calf shed to improve ventilation. An additional two automatic milk feeding machines have also been purchased, which enables calves to be split into more batches. This reduces mixing of age groups.

Dan says: “Neville has seen the results from one simple change, which has given him a renewed passion for the calves and driven investment in the youngstock, which will help improve heifer rearing even more.”

Although Neville doesn’t weigh the calves, he is convinced that the new feeding strategy is helping growth rates, which will keep him on track to hit a target age at first calving of 24 months.

Improvements in calf mortality and antibiotic spend since feeding OmniGen-AF® in milk powder and calf starter nuts.