Measure for success

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.

FFG-Nutrition-AFC 24 months benefitsActions to take:

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.

Click here for a practical demonstration on Using a Calf Weighband or  find out more in our Farmers Guide – Growth Measuring Tools.

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.

Find out more about how to set a growth rate for your heifers and how to achieve 24 months AFC in our Farmers Guide – Growth Rate Targets and Farmers Guide – Age at First Calving.


Milk Feeding for calves

Defining Mixing rates IN ORDER to meet CALF growth targets and rumen development



Have you have set your heifers’ target age and weight at first calving?

Take a calf with a 40kg birth weight, if your target age at first calving is 24 months with an accompanying 560kg body weight, then she will have to gain 320kg over 395 days to ensure she hits optimum breeding weight at 13 months. That means she must achieve an average daily liveweight gain (DLG) of 0.8kg throughout the pre-service rearing period.

Simple? Straight forward? To support this level of growth, then you need to make sure that you are providing your heifer calves with sufficient nutrition, both energy and protein. Also remember that during the milk feeding phase the calf’s feed conversion efficiency is at its highest.

One of our latest trials focused on feeding calf milk replacer to Holstein heifers at a rate of 900g per day. These heifers initially weighed 38kg and achieved a DLG of 0.78kg to 11 weeks – that’s around the level of growth required to reach the target we set above.

Defining mixing rates

To feed 900g of milk replacer per calf per day it’s important to check and review mixing rates to ensure that the milk is fed at the correct volume and concentration. For example you can either mix

• six litres per day at 150g per litre OR
• seven litres at 125g per litre

To find out more about various mixing rate levels please download our Calf Products Guide. 

If you are targeting high growth rates, then this will also increase your heifers’ energy requirements.  Energy intakes can be improved in various ways but increasing the milk replacer’s oil content from 16% to 20% has a negligible effect compared with simply feeding more of the same. Check out the various combinations in the following table.

Daily energy intake and effect of feeding a low vs high oil milk replacer, or different volumes or concentrations
Energy supplied/calf/day (MJ) 16% oil,    22% protein 20% oil,     22% protein
4 litres – 12.5% 7.5 7.8
4 litres – 15% 11.2 11.7
5 litres – 12.5% 11.7 12.2

Remember your heifers have a large ability to grow during the milk feeding stage. Review their quantity of feed, as well as the quality.


Six steps to correct mixing

FFG-Nutrition - How to mix milk

1. Accurately weigh the milk powder on scales
2. Use 125g of powder to 875ml water to make up one litre of mixed milk with a 12.5% solids concentration; using a full litre of water will lead to a weaker (11.1%) milk concentration
3. Take half the water (below 45°C) and add all the powder
4. Whisk until smooth
5. Add the rest of the water and whisk again
6. Check temperature (between 37-39°C) and feed

Protect your Calves against the cold this winter using our Calf Jackets Protocol

In the winter months, when temperatures fall, extra attention is Needed to protect calves from the effects of the cold, especially calves under 3 weeks of age.

calf jackets

Calf jackets help to keep calves warm, dry and healthy, in the winter when temperatures fall below 15°C. In colder conditions more energy is used to keep warm and therefore less energy is used on growth, development and supporting a strong immune function. Calf jackets do not replace good husbandry – they are an added benefit.

FFG-Environment-Thermal neutral zone

In our new Calf Jackets protocol farmer guide, we highlight areas which are important to consider when purchasing calf jackets and tips on developing your own calf jacket protocol in order to get the full benefit from using jackets

Calf jackets should be used in combination with good management practises such as providing the calves with a draft free environment, deep dry bedding helping the calf to maintain growth and support a strong immune function, reducing the risk of setbacks in calf health during periods of cold weather.

There are some things to be aware of when purchasing calf jackets. The jackets themselves must:

  • Have breathable material
  • Be water resistant or waterproof
  • Be machine washable.
  • Have adjustable straps and fasteners with low maintenance.

Once you have decided to use calf jackets, it is very important to use them properly to maximise their potential. A calf jacket protocol should be set to inform everyone working on the farm what is expected and what should be done. Jamie Robertson has helped us create a new Farmer Guide calf jackets protocols which you can download here. 

The Feed for Growth programme focuses on 3 key areas – Health, Nutrition and Environment. We have a range of Farmer Guides available to help you, covering everything from dealing with common health problems to feeding and housing your calves.