Farm Ireland

Wednesday 24 January 2018

This year's weanlings must hit targets to maximise output in '15

Mary Kinston

Recent heavy rain has made grazing conditions very challenging on some farms, forcing farmers to house stock quicker than expected.

Typically, it has been yearling and weanling heifers that have been housed because they soon make a mess of a field or paddock in wet weather as they continuously walk backwards and forwards along the length of an electric fence wire.

Housing is a great time to dose for worms and fluke as well as assess these groups of stock. It's now time to ask yourself the hard questions:

* Are the animals in good enough condition just to house them with no special consideration, or do they need to be batched up and fed on this winter?

* Is your management of young stock having a positive or negative impact on your herd's calving spread, reproductive performance and on stock retention?

To assess your management practices, you need to find out if you are on target to calve more than 70pc of in-calf heifers within three weeks of the first calving; whether you retain more than 85pc of your first calvers to become second calvers the following year; and are more than 95pc of your maiden heifers being submitted for mating within the first three weeks of breeding?

If you are not reaching all of these targets, it may suggest that your management of the heifer calf needs to improve, provided all of your other breeding decisions are in order.

The key to successful heifer rearing is reaching critical liveweights at appropriate times. The main targets are: that the heifers are 40pc of mature liveweight at housing; 60pc of mature liveweight at mating; and 95pc of mature liveweight at calving. Animal age is not so significant.

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Having the facilities to weigh heifers at housing and turnout before mating is a great way to assess your animals' performance and make any necessary changes in feeding. ICBF also offers a weighing service if you do not own or have access to scales.

Liveweight targets for young heifers are shown in Table 1 (right).


Taking action during this winter housing period will hopefully prevent you ending up with heifers that are too small at mating time. Whether you breed a small heifer on time, breed her later or carry her over until next year, she will still produce less. And remember, this year's weanlings will be the first group of heifers to milk in a quota-free era as they will calve down in 2015. Smart decisions taken now will maximise their productivity and longevity post-quota.

Making sure heifers calve on time and at the right size takes planning so management over this winter will significantly influence the liveweight gain of the weanling heifer.

The first 12 months are the most critical for skeletal and muscle development. Weanlings require a high quality diet, and will benefit substantially from high energy, high protein concentrate feed where silage quality is poor or where quantity is very limited.

Remember, the liveweight targets from nine months after the start of calving apply to all weanlings, including late born calves. If you are keeping heifer calves that were born after the first six weeks of calving, your management practices must make up the difference in liveweight between the first and last born calf.

Batching up weanlings at housing and differentially feeding groups of heifers according to their size and weight can help ensure that smaller, lighter heifers reach their target weight at mating.

Mary Kinston is a discussion group facilitator and consultant, and farms with her husband in Kerry. Email:

Irish Independent