As costs continue to rise and belts are tightened, beef producers should start thinking about spreading the cost of replacements over as many calvings as possible, but that means better management of replacement heifers.
First calving and second pregnancy are key factors affecting herd life expectancy, so heifers should be managed according to their own growth potential as well as that of their first calf and second pregnancy.
This is particularly the case when calving at two years of age, says independent consultant David Hendy.
“Having aimed for a body weight of 350-400kg at about 15 months of age, producers should make the decision to breed from heifers, finish or sell them as stores.
And those chosen for breeding should be from the best cows, be born earlier in the calving period and have the best growth rates for their age,” he adds.
“To reach those weights, heifer calves should be over wintered and fed to gain about 0.9kg a day. A steady plane of nutrition is vital forheifers to calve down at 85% of their mature body weight,” he adds.
EBLEX beef scientist Liz Genever says producers should also plan to calve heifers three weeks ahead of the main herd to give them greater attention around calving and longer to recover ahead of their second pregnancy.
She also advises feeding heifers differently from the rest of the herd in the final weeks of pregnancy and first weeks of lactation to ensure optimal milk production and highest conception rates at second service.
Furthermore, she says heifers should receive the best quality grazing on offer and have preferential access, when possible, to minimise bullying from older cows.
Dr Genever also advises offering supplementary feeding to calves to maintain sufficient growth without placing too much pressure on their dams and causing early levels of condition loss. “Ideally, a 12.5MJ ME/kg DM, 16.5% protein creep will be enough to maintain growth.”
She also says those heifers that have had a particularly bad calving should be culled whereever possible.
But Mr Hendy says producers should not be too hasty to cull straight away. “Those that have had a bad calving will undoubtedly take longer to get back in calf, but it’s a stressful period and the cost for culling a replacement is expensive, so a second chance is often advisable where heifers are concerned.”