Keep the calves healthy by getting an unlimited amount of milk, water and cuttings

On this early spring morning, a calf is lying in a blue blanket in an igloo. Our daughter wanted blankets for the winter. Blue for the bulls and pink for the calf, smiled dairy farmer Rinat Jansen of Nord Slyn in Drenthe.

However, the covers are not a mix of colors. In the front of the row of igloos it is only blue, and at the bottom it is only pink. When the cattle trader comes to get the ox calves, he just has to be here at the front. In this way it does not come into contact with the calves to be reared. This is better for hygiene, explains Harry Janssen.

the blackboard

Each igloo has a number. In the fodder kitchen, where the milk is prepared, there is a whiteboard with details of the calf for each igloo number. All nipple buckets are provided with a number corresponding to the igloo number. In this way we can wash the buckets and change the cold milk, after which the bucket goes back to the calf itself. Anyone can feed the calves with the whiteboard, including our daughters Leonie and Lisan,” explains Renate Janssen.

On this dairy farm, at least 90 percent of the calves receive high-quality colostrum

Maren van Brakel, Young Inventory Specialist at Dinkavit

In October 2018, the cows moved to this new company. The old stable was a few kilometers away, in the middle of Nord-Slein, and was standing on a very narrow piece of land. The construction of a new barn meant that animal welfare was considered in the design.

earth straw

Because of the animal’s health, Harry Janssen deliberately chose not dried manure as a filler for boxes, but for ground straw on a cow mattress. I like straw better than sawdust. Certainly there are no Klebsiella in hay. The effect of straw on the ground is also better.

Renate Jansen keeps track of calves data. © Jan Aninga

During construction on the new site, all space was made available for the large trench silos to dig out the lasagna. The main advantage of such pits, in which various cuts are made in seams along the entire length, is that the animals have a fixed ration all year round.

Soybean in dry mode

Hay from the natural ground is a supplement for dry cows. These cows should have enough protein and should not be overloaded with fat. This is correctly calculated by the feed supplier. As elsewhere, we now have a grass silage with a little VEM and a little protein. Soybeans are now added during the dry period. Because cows have to have enough raw protein, Drenthe dairy farmer explains.

The goal is for cows to enter the dry period with a condition score of 3.5. After birth, the animals should also start feeding with a fitness score of 3.5.

Feeding specialist and veterinarian

Feeding on the farm is not only the task of the animal feed specialist, but also the task of the veterinarian. They meet at Jansen every six months to discuss the company’s situation across the board. What are we facing and how can we improve things? This will be evaluated after six months. What happened and what was the result? says Rinat Janssen.

The vet saw that the starch was not being used enough. When sifting he saw many coarse particles in the compost. Then we moved on to providing yeasts for dairy cows and dry cows. With a 20 percent increase in rumen bacteria due to eating yeast, digestion was 8 percent better. That means 50 cents per cow per day, Harry Jansen calculates.


Rinat Janssen adds: ‘You can see that in the calves that were born. At the end of last year the calves were a little lighter. Calves are now transferred to dry cows two months before calving. When yeast was provided, the calves were born with a more normal weight relative to the calves.

Harry Jansen says caring for calves is important. “A good start is a must. Calves grow better and in the first months of life, for example, udder tissue is formed. This is expressed, among other things, in the production of good milk as a cow and in timely insemination, so that the calves are born At the age of one year and ten months to two years.

The quality of the calves is also reflected in the calves of the Dinkavit program, which is where the calves go. “In this programme, data from veal farms is returned to seven hundred affiliated dairy farmers,” says young specialist Maren van Brakel of Dinkavit.

High degree colostrum intake

For example, after arriving at veal farms, the quantity of colostrum and quality of colostrum by means of a blood sample are measured by antibodies. This way you can also check your dry period rations. A good dry period results in the emergence of many antibodies. With at least 90 percent of calves getting high-quality colostrum, this dairy farm fares better than the 80 percent average. Four years ago, this dairy farm was still at 80 percent. We also refeed the dropouts for the first six weeks. It’s zero here, says Van Brakel.

The delivery weight is also fed into each class, the young stock specialist knows. In the first quarter, the weight of the Belgian white-blue hybrid calves was 71 kilograms. This is very good. The national average was 59 kilograms. We want to motivate dairy farmers through this modular system.

Janssen is happy with this programme. As he says, “It also indicates how the calves are being raised.”


The quality of colostrum is also regularly measured with a refractometer. Not only do calves get as much colostrum as possible, but also plenty of water is available. We record the brix value of each animal. This gives us an idea of ​​the quality of the colostrum. Calves receive unlimited colostrum. This allows the animals to suck up the colostrum as needed. This means that intake is checked several times a day, the dairy farmer explains.

Colostrum and water are provided to calves from zero to three days. After the colostrum period, they switch to formula milk. This entire period lasts from three days to nine weeks. During this period, calves are provided with unlimited alternatives of milk, water and pellets. Before weaning, the calves are gradually converted into calf pellets and fed with hay.

igloo group

At about four weeks of age, the calves are transferred to the igloo group. At the age of three months, the calves go to the free stall barn on the hay. After eight months, these calves move into the cabin area.

From the age of four weeks, calves are transferred to collective igloos.
From the age of four weeks, calves are transferred to collective igloos. © Jan Aninga

Calves received 4 liters of milk twice a day after colostrum, but this led to diarrhoea. That’s why dairy farmers in Drenthe have turned to an unlimited supply of milk. The stain can hold 2 liters of milk. By giving an unlimited amount of milk, they can drink more and more without overloading. This promotes growth’, explains Rinat Janssen.

By the way, this stops in the winter months. Rinat Janssen knows that if the milk is too cold, the calves do not like it very much. “In the winter months we always gave them warm milk, but now we’re back to unlimited milking.”

Better resistance

Van Brakel also refers to the advantage of unlimited feeding with milk. Our tracking system shows that these calves are heavier than calves that receive milk twice a day. An added advantage is that these heavier calves have better resistance. notice.

Control is different with unlimited milk feeding, as Harry Jansen confirms. With limited feeding, the calves are right next to the buckets, but not with unlimited feeding. You also have to make sure the animals have finished their milk and you have to keep the buckets clean,” he explains. Good control and management are important here.

Boost immunity

Calves receive fresh water from day one. On hot summer days they drink a lot, because the hot weather makes them thirsty. Also, in combination with the coarse pieces they receive from day one, rumen function, and therefore the immune system, is stimulated,” the dairy farmer explains.

The businessman continues that the main advantage of this water is reflected in the health of the calves. You can tell by everything that they are stronger. If diarrhea occurs, the calf will recover after a few days. Water flushes the digestive system. Therefore, the use of medicine by calves is almost non-existent. This is a great bonus and it works really well.

The Janssen family from North Slene
The Janssen family from North Sline | © Jan Anninga

Company details

Harry and Renate Janssen and their daughters Leonie and Lisan own a dairy farm with 130 dairy cows and 90 small cattle in North Slyn in the Drenthe. It has a total area of ​​65 hectares, of which 49 hectares are grass, 11 hectares is corn and 5 hectares are natural grasslands. The plot area is 50 hectares, on which pastures are used. Cows are milked by two milking robots. In time there will be a place for a third milking robot. Milk production throughout the year is 9,841 kilograms of milk with 4.60 percent fat and 3.69 percent protein.

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