Gert Jan van der Haar: 'Calf rearing just needs to be done right'

The Van der Haar family from Den Velde, close to the German border, leaves nothing to chance when it comes to rearing their calves. After all, a calf's first few months are crucial if it is to mature into a productive dairy cow. "In retrospect, you mustn't be able to blame yourself that you could have done a better job.´

Gert Jan van der Haar has been a Sprayfo client since day one. Together with sons René and Gerjan, he owns a herd of 140 dairy cows and 140 head of young cattle. Average milk yield is about 10,000 litres per cow. The farm has plenty of young cattle, as it also retains breeding bulls and sells two-year heifers as breeding cattle.

Regular NRM entrant

Van der Haar is a regular entrant at the NRM show, and can also be found at other shows. Gert Jan describes their breeding target to be "well-balanced cows". "Healthy udders and legs while safeguarding volumes." Bull selection is essential to ensure good show cows, but animal care is at least as important, he states confidently. "Of course farmers look at lineage, but the cow in front of them is more important. It's all about what you see."

3 days of colostrum

Animal care begins directly at birth. After being licked clean by the cow, the calves are immediately removed from the calving barn and housed in individual pens. On average, they are fed their first colostrum within two hours. This continues for three days, with the calves consuming three litres of colostrum per feed. Mostly in two sittings, though smaller calves receive colostrum in multiple portions throughout the day to prevent overfeeding. After colostrum, they are given a one-off water ration. "We think that this aids the transition to Sprayfo Excellent, as it rinses the stomach out first", explains Gert Jan Van der Haar.

 4 calves per group

The calves remain in the individual pens for two to three weeks, depending on the number of calves that are transferred together to the group stall. The aim is to retain four calves per group, as that makes is easier to feed them from a bucket. In the individual pens, the calves are given Sprayfo Excellent in a rearing bucket – the same bucket each time. In practice, this means both the buckets and the boxes are numbered.

Calves drink from the bucket

Before they are transferred to a group stall, the calves learn to drink from a bucket. For development of the rumen, they are then given calf pellets and lucerne from that point on.

After 2 months, the supply of Sprayfo Excellent is decreased, until the animals are fully weaned from the milk at the age of 3 months. In the weaning period , the calves ingest about 3 kg of pellets a day. At around four months, they are transferred to the dry cow shed with cubicles. Here, the volume of pellets is reduced to 2.5 kilos a day and the calves are switched to dairy cattle rations.

Close monitoring of development

The calves are fed by Margriet Nijenhuis, Gert Jan's partner. Not only does she maintain the feed schedule, but she records the calves' entire development on the computer. She knows for each calf how the birth went and whether there was anything unusual during rearing. These records can be of use later on, if a calf develops health problems, for instance. "We recently had a cow that had to be removed due to lung problems. In Margriet's records, we saw that the animal had already had a lung infection as a calf. This just emphasizes once again how crucial the first few months are for dairy cow development."

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