News & Advice

What is your strategy to get the best out of your heifers?

Apr 28, 2020 | Dairy, Young Stock

Arnica van der Wiele, Veterinarian, Anexa Vets Ngatea

When your heifers come home from grazing it is important to stop, look and ask yourself the question:  “Have we set them up for a successful start of their milking career?”  The science is clear – well-grown heifers produce more milk in their first lactation, compete better with mature cows and survive longer in the milking herd.

It’s never too late to take action if they are below target; there are always options. 

Once home you should: 

  • Body Condition Score (and/or weigh): Weigh your heifers and/or get us to body condition score them. Select those ones not meeting targets and feed them preferentially before and after calving. 
  • Feed budget: How much should my heifers be fed in June and July? Which animals need the feed more? How much can you spend? What feed or feed mix will give you the best bang for your buck? We can offer our advice and set you up with a plan to preferentially feed your heifers to get some compensatory growth before they calve. 
  • Trace elements: What is their mineral status? Don’t assume they are the same as the animals on the milking platform. Test and supplement (if needed) now; our research shows that the R2s are the group most likely to be deficient in trace minerals. Now is the time to correct levels before calving. 
  • Parasites: drench your heifers for worms. Stock that are carrying a worm burden have a lower feed conversion efficiency.
    Playing catch up is always more costly than prevention, so if you identify an issue with your heifers that arrive home, have a look at your yearlings too. Low liveweight delays puberty, so these heifers are less likely to have started cycling at mating start date. They will take longer to get in calf and will calve late. Take action to improve nutrition, ensure good parasite control and trace element supplementation – have the hard conversations with the grazier in advance. 

So what can we do? A case study. 

Last Autumn we had a number of mobs of heifers arrive home underweight. One mob of Jersey heifers was 72kg underweight or almost 20% behind. If nothing was done to this mob of heifers, their 1st lactation would have been severely affected. Based on the InCalf Gap calculator these poor weights would have reduced 6-week in-calf rate by about 20%, increased empty rate by about 6% in this mob, with about 20-30kgMS per heifer less milk produced! And that’s only the effects on first lactation!

Based on these calculations the share-milker and vet (InCalf advisor as well) decided the mob would be best milked OAD all lactation. There were many factors to consider before making this decision, however for this mob of heifers it was the right call. The mob achieved 77% 6-week in-calf rate, 6% not-in-calf (with an 11 week mating), which was the best performing age group of the herd. As a group of heifers they still produced 70% of the mature cows for this lactation, which is possibly not much lower than they would have produced if they had been milked twice-a-day (because they were under-grown). At the most recent body condition score, these heifers were in BCS 4.5 and 5, therefore well on the way to being set up for next season!

For this farmer assessing the heifers with his vet and taking the weights seriously has led to a positive outcome.

Share This