The Roulston family – brothers John, Keith and George – milk 400 cows near Newtowncunningham in Co Donegal. Currently averaging 7,000 litres with good milk solids, the vast bulk of the herd calves down during a six week period between the end of February and the middle of April.

“We normally have 120 calves on the ground during the Spring months. We are committed to rearing heifers that will enter the milking herd as two year olds. This fits in with our tight calving pattern,” John explained.

“I am also under no illusions that it’s a combination of a few key factors that determine the success or otherwise of any calf rearing enterprise makes for successful heifer rearing; accommodation – to ensure healthy calves, nutrition and management.

New accommodation, completed earlier this year, has made a big difference to growth rates. It comprises a single span 60’ x 60’ building with a high roof and good ventilation but which also provides full protection from the prevailing wind. The new building allows the Roulston brothers to rear calves in groups of 30 from 10 days old with very little threat of health issues, such as pneumonia, arising.

“The pens are designed to ensure good hygiene,” John further explained.

“Fresh straw is added every other day to two third of the pen with the front third fitted with mini slats. This slatted area is where the milk feeding machine sits with its four separate feeding points.”

Keith confirmed that the brothers are delighted with the new accomodation and equally happy with the feeding regime.

“They get good supplies of colostrum and are kept in very small groups up to 10 days old,” he commented.

“From day 10 we feed 2.2litres of ProviMilk Daisy every 12 hours which is increased to three litres at day 17. This is fed alongside a good quality creep feed.”

ProviMilk Daisy is a whey based milk replacer powder that specialises in giving the calf a very high level of nourishment from an early age right to weaning. It contains NuStart that conditions the rumen ready for weaning.

“It caters for all the calves, whatever their age and they thrive on it,” Keith added.

“It seems to give them a good growth boost and we rarely see a growth check at weaning.”

Weaning starts from day 50 but it’s a gradual process and there’s no hard and fast age by which the calves have to be off milk.

“Our priority is making sure the calves are well grown and adjusted to solid food before we take all the milk away,” Thomas Roulston pointed out.

“We avoid any growth checks as much as we can. Our aim is to serve heifers at 15 months with sexed semen.  Grazed grass and silage alone will not be sufficient to allow the young stock met this target

“So we feed 2kg a head of concentrates per day to bolster nutritional input and balance accordingly with minerals and vitamins.”

A reflection of the calf rearing successes achieved by the Roulston brothers is the fact that they have lost only one calf over the past twelve months