Do you want increase herd yield?
If your heifers calve at 23 to 25 months then they will go on to yield more over their first five years of life than older calving animals simply because they achieve more lactations per unit of time, and have higher survival rates according to a Royal Veterinary College study of 500 animals.
To calve at 24 months, heifers must be in calf by 15 months. Since maiden heifers require on average 1.4 services per conception, first breeding must start at 13 to 14 months.
1. Set growth rate targets: ensure rapid growth in early life – they will never catch up. Aim for up to 0.85kg per day during the first three months of life, and thereafter 0.7kg per day up to first breeding when they must be 55% to 60% of mature body weight.
2. Measure calf growth: if you don’t, you can’t monitor. Measure heifers at least twice during the rearing period: at birth, when it’s relatively easy to put a new born calf on a weigh scale, at weaning and again at a time when animals are being handled, for example vaccination or worming. Use weigh scales or a weigh band.
3. Milk: feeding sufficient energy and protein to support target growth rates is essential. Do you know how much milk powder your calves receive each day? For 0.6kg per day target growth rate, calves should be fed at least five litres of a 12.5% solution of milk replacer, that’s 125g of powder made up to a litre, providing the calf with 625g milk powder per day (125g x five litres = 625g).
If you target higher growth rates of 0.8kg to 0.9kg per day, feed up to 900g of milk powder per day in two or preferably more feeds, for example feed six litres of milk mixed at a concentration of 150g of powder per litre.
4. Weaning management: calves must be provided with fresh palatable dry starter feed from day three, plus high quality straw, to ensure good rumen development prior to weaning. A calf should be eating 1kg to 1.5kg a day of concentrate and doubling its birthweight at weaning. Adopting a gradual weaning protocol by stepping down the amount of milk fed and number of milk feeds per day over the last three weeks will increase solid feed intake. This will result in a smoother transition onto solid feed reducing the risk of a growth check during this period.
5. Water: clean fresh water is essential from day three, even during the milk feeding period; milk is a feed not a drink.