1 to 6 rule for feeding calves this spring

The Teagasc National Dairy Conference, which returned to an in-person event this year for the first time since 2019, has highlighted key challenges, including improving water quality and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, facing dairy farmers.

1 to 6 rule for feeding calves this spring

The first day of the two-day conference took place in Cork, (Tuesday, December 6) where delegates got an opportunity to learn about how dairy farmers can benefit from latest research and “turn challenges into opportunities”.

The second day of the conference takes place in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath tomorrow (Thursday, December 8).

At the first day of the conference in Cork yesterday, Stuart Childs a dairy specialist with Teagasc, chaired a session on ‘Producing higher quality calves from the dairy herd’ .

Calf welfare

One of the keynote speakers was Emer Kennedy from Teagasc who outlined some management and housing guidelines on how to achieve excellent calf welfare on farms.

Kennedy also highlighted that calf welfare is to the forefront internationally and while Irish farmers have a good reputation, it is more important than ever that this is retained.

Image source: Teagasc

She referenced to a Teagasc survey conducted on 51 farms based in Munster that illustrated that more than 80% of farmers rate calf welfare on their farm “as very or extremely good”.

It also highlighted that almost 85% of farmers rated their calf husbandry skills as “very or extremely good” – but there is always room for improvement.

1 to 6 rule

Kennedy detailed the calf 1 to 6 rule to delegates at the Teagasc conference as an important method in ensuring that calves get the best start to life.

  • One – first milking: Calves should only be fed high quality colostrum, that is >22% on Brix refractometer;
  • Two – feed the high-quality colostrum to calves within two hours of birth;
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Image source: Teagasc
  • Three – feed 3L of colostrum to all calves;
  • Four – four feeds of transition milk following the first feed of colostrum (milkings two to six);
  • Five – all calves should be fed 5L of transition milk/day;
  • Six – by two weeks of age, calves should be offered 6L of high-quality whole milk or milk replacer divided into two feeds.

Kennedy outlined that the antibodies contained within the colostrum protect the calf until its own immune system is fully functional.

But the time between passive immunity provided by the colostrum and the calf’s own immunity creates a period of high risk for illness.

During this period the mixing or moving of calves should be avoided.

Image source: Teagasc

Kennedy also detailed the importance of rumen development and that all calves need to be offered water and concentrates from the start.

She said this helps the calf move from a “monogastric to a ruminant” animal.


One area that Kennedy focused on during the conference was calf housing and highlighted issues such as hygiene and space in sheds.

One of the key points from the presentation was that farmers should ensure that they plan for 1.5m2 /calf <150kg.

The more space calves have, is linked to a reduced rate of sickness within the calves, along with smaller group sizes.

Farmers also need to assess in advance how many calves can be housed in the shed.

In order to do this Kennedy said it is advisable to measure the shed by multiplying the length and width and then dividing by 1.5m2.

E.g., a pen that is 6m x 3m is 18m2, this is then divided by 1.5 – which determines that 12 calves can be kept in this pen.

Once this has been done, farmers can then determine how many calves can be housed in the shed and if they will have enough space at peak for all their calves.

She also noted that if farmers are short of housing, other options should be looked at, but it is important to avoid the overcrowding of calves in a pen.

Calf quality

Alan Twomey from Teagasc was another key speaker at the Cork event who discussed maximising the beef potential from the dairy herd.

Twomey outlined that a larger number of beef calves will be coming from the dairy herd and that beef farmers will be needed to rear these calves.

He outlined some of the recent changes to the economic breeding index (EBI), dairy beef index (DBI) and commercial beef value (CBV).

Twomey encouraged farmers to use the DBI to identify beef bull for ease of calving and good beef merit.

He said the CBV allows beef farmers to identify higher merit calves.

He also highlighted that dairy farmers control the genetics of beef farms and higher value calves are needed to ensure profitablity on beef farms.

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