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Blueprint Calf Rearing project makes it possible to successfully rear calves

Calves are the dairy cows of the future. Successfully rearing calves provides many advantages: less strain on the environment, lower costs and a more sustainable dairy cow. To make successful rearing of calves possible in practice for every livestock farmer, HAS University of Applied Sciences has worked together with Vetvice B.V., FrieslandCampina Nutrifeed, MSD Animal Health, VDK products and Agrifirm on the project ‘Blueprint Calf Rearing’.

Best practices to improving rearing of calves on the dairy farm

Successfully rearing calves is the result of using smart and disciplined methods in optimal conditions. Knowledge is required, but this knowledge must also be translated into practice. Optimal rearing is an investment in the future. Reason enough to take a closer look at this important stage in a cow’s life. The multi-year project ‘Blueprint Calf Rearing’ focussed on improving calf rearing practices on dairy farms by developing and testing a blueprint for best practices which can be implemented by dairy farmers and the consultancy sector. The added value of a multi-year programme is that it consists of multiple subprojects, building upon each other. It is therefore not necessary to start from scratch, but does provide the opportunity of evaluating and adjusting after each subproject.

Implementing changes

“There was an extremely positive reaction to the project throughout the professional field,” says Aline van Genderen, lecturer at HAS University of Applied Sciences. “We carried out a total of 5 graduation projects. Some students were so enthusiastic, that they joined a brainstorm session with the steering group partners even after they had graduated. They learned a great deal from each other. The reason for starting the programme was that though a lot of research into rearing calves had already been done, livestock farmers were struggling to adapt the methods and apply them to their operational management. The students conducted practical research at 14 livestock farms, after which they were able to implement changes. The project ended at the start of 2019, producing a great many ideas, both for product development and knowledge development, that the professional field can continue to work on.”

Blueprint concept tested and improved

The concept of the blueprint was used as the model for the research. This concept was set up by Jan Hulsen and refined by experts from the steering group. During the research, the concept was tested and improved. The students made a survey of current methods used by participating livestock farmers and analysed this based on the blueprint, enabling them to work together with the livestock farmers to formulate suitable recommendations.

Success factors for rearing calves

The Blueprint Calf Rearing is an overview of so-called success factors for aspects such as accommodation, hygiene, methods and organisation. Taken together, these guarantee that rearing is successful and structured. The blueprint is divided according to life phase, with a thorough description of the ideal situation for each success factor. A livestock farmer can go through the checklist together with their advisers to discover aspects where their business can improve. For livestock farmers and consultants, it offers a single set of guidelines on a structured approach to the raising of calves into heifers.

Surprising results

The steering group partners were closely involved in the project. Aline explains that “The students all received an extensive introductory programme during which they visited all the partners. The lines of communication were very short and the partners indicated that they valued working with the students. Combining the ideas of experienced professionals and young people produced surprising results. The participating livestock farmers stated that they were fairly knowledgeable about good calf rearing practices, but in practice, it was difficult to break habits and actually implement improvements. They did manage to do it thanks to the intensive contact that the students had with the livestock farmers. And that’s something I’m very proud of.”

The future

“We have now received many enthusiastic reactions from various parties within the sector. Recently, we held a broad-based meeting involving a large number of representatives and advocates from the educational, dairy, feed and veterinary sectors. You can download the Blueprint Calf Rearing below. We urge you to try it out and give us feedback with your suggestions or ideas.”