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Setting the right targets

Sector News Sector News3-4-2018

Heifers are the best genetics in your herd, said Steven Morrison, from the Agri-Food and Bioscience Institute (AFBI) in Northern Ireland. Recent figures from AHDB Dairy show that the average PLI of heifers in the British herd stands at 176 whilst the average PLI of cows in their second lactation is 72. 

The cost of rearing  these heifers is substantial. The College of Agriculture, Food & Rural Enterprise benchmarking results show that the average cost of rearing a heifer in 2015/16 was £1,768. There was also a huge difference between the top 25% at £1,453 and the bottom 25% at £2,283 and most of that extra cost was down to delayed calving. On avergae, heifers cost an extra £3 a day after 24 months, their lifetime yield is reduced and they are more likely to be culled from the herd. 

Afbeelding: 1117-0226 PR4Photos - reverberate - acland farm

24 months at calving

"We have a target of 24 months for first calving but growing them to meet that target is crucial, Steven explained. "A heifer needs to be about 45% of her mature weight to show signs of puberty. You also want her to have two or three cycles beyond puberty in order to get the highest conception rate. So, you need to start to breed heifers at 13.5 months in order to get her to calve down at 24 months."

"However, you need to get this maximum weight gain without getting heifers over-fat," he stressed. "While larger heifers may produce more milk in their first lactation, they are harder to get back into calf and develop more lameness issues. 

Underestimation

"We repeatedly find that farmers underestimate the weights of their heifers, leading to delayed breeding, overfeeding and incorrect dosage of medicines and vaccines. If you don't have scales use wither height, or better, a girth tape to measure weights. This information can be used to monitor changes and put together a targeted growth and nutrition plan," Steven concluded.