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Introduction - Rearing strategy confidence

All farmers have the potential to make gains in business performance by critiquing and improving how they rear heifers. This edition of Youngstock Toolkit aims to provide tips on how to do it.

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So you have spent hours thinking about how you can breed quality replacements, but how confident are you that your rearing strategy is good enough to allow heifers to achieve their full genetic potential?

 

In a recent survey (see graphic, below), nearly half of respondents admitted their youngstock did not get enough attention, while 41% were calving heifers over the optimum age at first calving of 24 months.

 

Veterinary consultant Richard Cooper, of The Evidence Group, says all too often, calf rearing is treated as the ‘poor cousin’ of the main dairy enterprise, with labour challenges often compounding the issue. He believes this represents a huge opportunity for producers to improve overall business efficiencies.


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He says: “Heifer rearing casts a long shadow. They are a huge investment. A poorly run heifer enterprise can act as a lead weight to a dairy enterprise.

 

“The costs incurred in inefficient heifer rearing can cost producers dearly – it can be the difference between profit and loss.”

 

For example, a heifer which receives one treatment for sub-clinical pneumonia has been shown to produce 5% less milk in its first lactation. Growing calves well, so they calve earlier, will also benefit yields, udder health and survival (see graphic, below).

Why calve younger?

J24 months – the optimum age at first calving

 

Production and health

Calve younger to get the best yields and udder health; Research carried out on more than 390,000 Holsteins and Holstein Friesians by Bishopton Veterinary Group and the University of Liverpool found that:

  • Animals which calved younger had better productive performance and increased likelihood of calving for a second time
  • Animals calving at 21 months had a predicted mean lactation somatic cell count (SCC) of 72,765 cells/ml
  • Animals calving at 36 months had a predicted mean lactation SCC of 86,648 cells/ml
  • Heifers which calved at 22 months had average daily lifetime yields of 15.24kg
  • Heifers which calved at 36 months had average daily lifetime milk yields of 12.83kg

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