Heifer rearing: What are the priorities?
Heifer calves are the cornerstone of every dairy herd as they are the building blocks for future milk production
Heifer rearing represents up to 20pc of farm expenses according to Moorepark research with an average cost of €1,500 to calve a heifer at 24 months of age.
Given the scale of this investment, dairy calf management has to be a priority for anybody in the business of milk production.
Cows with a longer life and higher production => Increased farm profit + More sustainable production.
Good health and balanced nutrition for the replacement dairy heifer in the first 60 days are critical to maximise production over the lifetime of the animal.
The two main priorities in the first 60 days to ensure optimum future performance are 1) colostrum management and 2) energy intake. Anything that reduces the energy intake of the calf, and reduces the average daily gain, will have long term effects on the ability of that animal to produce milk.
Studies have shown that additional average daily liveweight gain (ADLG) during the first 60 days will result in additional milk yield in the first lactation. For every additional 100g of ADLG during the first 60 days of life, about 225kg of additional milk yield in the first lactation can be expected.
Average daily liveweight gain pre-weaning has been shown to account for a 22pc variation in first lactation yield. In addition growth during the first 60 days is linked to survival, with studies showing that heifers that reached second lactation grew significantly more in the first two months compared with those that did not make it through to the second lactation.
So, all the most recent research in this area indicates that heifers that perform best in the first 60 days of life survive longer and produce more milk, and therefore deliver more profit for the farm.