UK - Calf coats can have a positive impact on growth rates and feed costs of winter born calves, a study has shown.
A trial by Harper Adams University in conjunction with Wynnstay found that using coats on calves born between December and February added more than 5kg to calves’ overall weight gain to 12 weeks.
Calves in coats also ate less food, reducing total feed costs by almost £3 per calf.
The study saw 40 two-week-old calves born between December 2013 and February 2014 split into two groups and housed in individual straw bedded pens.
Both groups were fed a warm whey based milk replacer twice a day before being offered ad lib 18 per cent CP early weaning concentrates until they were weaned at 42 days. At weaning the calves were put into a group pen until 12 weeks.
Unlike the control group, the treatment group of calves were fitted with calf coats until weaning at day 42.
The study found that calves with coats recorded higher daily live weight gains from the start of the trial to week 12, gaining an additional 5.3kg of weight overall.
The calves with coats also ate less feed than the group without coats, reducing total feed costs by £2.90 per calf and per kg gain by 13p/kg.
In addition the calves with coats recorded increased last rib girth measurements indicating improved rumen development. They also had improved coat bloom score, improved faecal score and reduced incidence of scour compared to the control group.
Gill Dickson, Wynnstay’s national calf specialist, said using coats to protect young calves from cold temperatures means the animals have more energy for growth and to fight off infection.
“Calves are comfortable until it gets to below 10ºC, at which point they get uncomfortably cold and they have to use more and more calories to keep warm,” she said.
“People tend to use coats when a calf is premature or sick, but this trial has shown that it pays to use them on all animals in the winter.
“The youngest animals in this trial were two-weeks-old, but had they been younger I think the benefits would have been even greater.”
Mrs Dickson said there are a variety of coats in the market, but it was important to pick one which was fully insulated, washable and keeps the area warm around the animal’s heart and lungs, such as the Kerbl coats offered by Wynnstay.
“When this trial was conducted last winter it was actually quite mild, had it been colder I think we would have seen more than 5.3kg extra live weight gain,” she added.
“Even in a fairly mild winter, the savings made in feed costs and weight gain make investing in coats worthwhile.”
The study, supervised by Simon Marsh, Principal Lecturer and cattle specialist Harper Adams University, will be presented at the British Society of Animal science conference in April 2015.
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