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Monitor growth to stay on target

Sector News Sector News12-8-2019

Rearing heifers to the correct weight and stature for calving at 24 months of age requires an average weight gain of 0.8kg per day throughout the growing period. Achieving this performance at grass can be a challenge, but is entirely possible with the correct feeding and management systems in place.

Dry-matter assessment

Understanding grass covers will highlight the amount of concentrate or forage required to buffer any shortfall in the energy that grass intakes alone will provide. However, it is important to assess not just the amount of grass available to young stock, but also its dry matter (DM) content. If grass DM is only 15%, a 12-month-old heifer would need to eat 60kg (fresh weight) to meet her energy requirements. DM can vary hugely depending on weather and time of year, so it’s vital that producers know the value of their grass.

Heifers - Dry-matter assessment

Growth targets

When it comes to energy, heifer requirements, to achieve target growth rates, will depend on liveweight, according to ForFarmers’ young stock specialist Ann Coombes. “It is important to identify whether DM intakes from grass will be sufficient to supply heifers with the required levels of energy to sustain daily liveweight growth rates at a target rate of 0.8 kg per day.

“This assessment should be carried out throughout the grazing season, as even highquality grass leys may not be able to provide all the energy a heifer requires as she matures. Concentrates should be fed to balance any predicted shortfall in energy requirements and to maintain optimum growth rates,” she adds. Regularly monitoring heifer weights can help producers to keep track of whether growth targets are being met by grazing. It will also alert producers as to when they should increase supplementation in order to ensure good growth rates and maintain heifer health.

Delayed service

In a recent ForFarmers trial, involving more than 400 cattle, heifers on grazing alone had a daily liveweight gain (DLWG) of 0.40kg per day, while those on grazing and 1kg of VITA Heifer 16 rolls had an average DLWG of 0.86kg per day. “Failing to achieve growth targets at grass can result in delayed service, resulting in significant additional rearing costs,” says Miss Coombes. “It is more cost-effective to supplement heifer rations with concentrates during the grazing period to maintain good growth rates and ensure optimum conditions for bulling and first calving.”

For more information on heifer growth rates contact your ForFarmers’ young stock specialist or call 0330 678 0982.