Gerard Boenink: "Good calf rearing repays itself handsomely in the milking parlour."

With nearly 20 acres of farmland and a milk quota of 730,000 kilos, the dairy farm in Harreland belonging to Gerard, Ria and son Gerben Boenink can certainly be said to be intensive. All the more reason for them to aim for top-quality calf rearing. "Good calf rearing repays itself handsomely in the milking parlour."

The calves are kept at the Boenink family farm until the age of 3.5 months. At that point, they are moved to a rearing farm for young cattle, and return one month before calving.

Less diarrhoea thanks to very digestible calf milk replacer

After calving, calves are immediately removed from their mothers and housed in individual pens, where they are fed colostrum as soon as possible. The colostrum period lasts 3 to 4 days, followed by a day of half colostrum, half Sprayfo, before switching fully to Sprayfo Excellent.

"We feed Excellent because it's so easily digestible", explains Gerard Boenink. "It gives you better calves", his wife adds. She's generally the one who feeds the calves. "Since switching to Sprayfo Excellent, we have much less diarrhoea problems and therefore much less need for antibiotics. They grow really well.”

Hygiene is very important

The calves remain in the individual pens until day 10. “That makes it easier to keep an eye on them”, explains Ria. “Any potential dips are easier to overcome when they're individually housed. What's more, it's more hygienic, as the pens are easy to clean and fast-drying”. Hygiene is very important at the Boenink farm. They have fitted a boiler in the rearing barn, to clean the buckets of the individual pens on the spot with warm water. The pens are easy to move around. Once the calves are transferred to the group stall, the individual pens are hosed clean and placed outdoors. "That's the best form of disinfection", states Gerard.

Smart routing for calf housing

In the group stall, the calves are bedded on straw with a grating underneath. This is also the location of the drinking machine. Gerard Boenink: "When setting up the housing, routing is a key factor. A calf must be able to lie on dry bedding, so the drinking machine must be located over the gratings."

Calf drinking machine with 2 drinking stations

The drinking machine has 2 drinking stations, one for the group of 10 to 30 day calves and one for the group of 30 to 60 days. The third group from 60 days is no longer fed milk. With an average of 6 calves per drinking station, the capacity of the machine is not even remotely utilised, the Boeninks are aware. However, the benefits of this machine comfortably offset the cost of such an investment, as far as they are concerned. "With a drinking machine, you can spread portions evenly, so that a calf never receives too much milk in one go. What's more, the milk supply can be gradually increased and reduced and the milk is always at the right temperature." The machine is regularly checked to ensure accuracy.

"The new housing and drinking machine required a major investment", says Gerard. "But good calf rearing gives you more profitable cows in your milking parlour. Good calf rearing is an investment in the future of your dairy herd."

Average milk production of the Boenink dairy herd is around 10,000 litres, with 4.45 % fat and 3.50 % protein.

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