Wietske Meester: ‘Shinier coats and better performance’

Milking a healthy and strong heifer starts with the healthy rearing of young calves. Germ, Wietske and son Sietse de Boer – otherwise known as the De Boer-Meester partnership from Menaldum in The Netherlands – stick closely to the rules on rearing young cattle. For Wietske ‘A structured work approach and making improvements wherever they are possible’ are decisive factors.’ “We try to exclude anything that can lead to ­problems.” 

Minimising airway ­problems 

“My roots are not in dairy farming,” explained Wietske Meester, after talking passionately for half an hour about calf rearing, for which she is responsible on their farm with around 130 dairy cows. “I didn’t grow up in dairy farming, I grew into it. I read everything I can find on the subject and always ask questions. Is there room for improvement?” This dairy farmer is always open to improvements. Eighteen months ago, she started feeding her calves Kalvolac CAIR powdered milk. ‘Because airway ­problems were always a major nuisance in the winter.’ After making several changes to the accommodation, and after a smoke test by their Agrifirm consultant, they decided to give CAIR milk powder a chance. ‘We saw an improvement straight away. The calves now grow faster, and put on more weight,” she confirmed, without a single doubt. ‘Their coats are shinier, and they perform better.’ 

“The calves now grow faster, and put on more weight,”

Bottle feed three times a day 

The 50 to 60 calves she rears each year are fed colostrum for the first three days, according to a fixed protocol. “During the first feed they are given two bottles, then one bottle of colostrum three times a day.” This milk feed is followed by a bottle of powdered milk three times a day. “Each bottle contains 2 litres. I collect the milk from the automatic drinking machine,” she explained describing her working method. “That way the temperature and water-powder ratio are always consistent. Another advantage is that if Germ has to feed the calves instead of me, then they still receive exactly the same to drink.” 

The dairy farmer explained her preference for bottle feeding the youngest calves. “It takes more time than with buckets, but it enables me to see how quickly they drink and I know for certain they have had their full ration.” 

Hygiene is essential 

After two weeks, the calves move on to group accommodation where the automatic drinking machine delivers 8 litres of milk per calf, per day. And the Kalvolac CAIR is delivered via the same machine. “It is never lumpy and the mix is always smooth,” she commented, adding that she always pays particular attention to hygiene in and around the machine. “I clean the machine mouth every day and replace the teats and hoses every four weeks. Hygiene is particularly important in the summer months, to prevent diarrhoea.” 

Wietske first lines the floor of the individual cubicles with an empty milk powder bag, topped with straw, to prevent draughts. If the temperature falls below 10 degrees Celsius, each calf has its own blanket, and on the day they are born, a heat lamp is placed in the cubicle. From day one onwards, each calf has its own water bowl which is refreshed every day, to which a bowl of calf muesli is added following the colostrum period. 

Precise administration 

As well as a correct approach to her work, Wietske also maintains very precise administration. “I write everything down. When the teats are changed, when the group pens are mucked out, when the calves are dehorned, when they receive their influenza jab or when they are ill. Good rearing starts with a structured work approach.”  With all that attention is there much room for improvement? In response, Wietske suggested, “We could reduce the weaning age of the heifers slightly. But to make that possible, you need to achieve the best possible results right from the start. In other words during calf rearing.” 

‘Reducing the weaning age of the heifers? You need to achieve the best possible results right from the start.’