Holstein calves, laying on straw bedding in yard© FLPA/REX/Shutterstock

An insightful heifer-rearing cost calculator from AHDB Dairy has been updated and made available online for more accurate evaluations.

This follows trials finding heifer-rearing costs ranged “considerably” from £1,800 a heifer to £3,000.

See also: Weaning stage is critical to heifer performance in first lactation

Using updated standard industry figures or a farm’s own costs, the programme draws on real industry data from 102 farms in a Royal Veterinary College/AHDB study in 2015.

Three-part calculator

Key improvements to the calculator include a three-part breakdown of heifer costs split into birth-to-weaning, weaning-to-conception and conception-to-calving. You can access the AHDB Dairy heifer-rearing cost calculator online 

Four targets for heifer rearing

  • Double birth weight at weaning
  • Target an average daily liveweight gain from birth to conception of 800-900g
  • Heifers should be 50% of mature cow body weight by 12 months
  • Calve down at 90% of mature body weight at 24 months

AHDB Dairy senior scientist Jenny Gibbons explains that this allows businesses to really scrutinise calf-rearing protocols to improve growth and what cost implications it could have.

“A farmer might be looking at weaning earlier, moving from a 10-week weaning to an eight- or nine-week weaning. The calculator now assesses the implications of this specific alteration,” Dr Gibbons says.

“Mortality is now addressed at each of the three stages by putting a mortality percentage that is added on to rearing costs.

“This is a real cost, but it’s not something you write a cheque for necessarily and mortality costs are then shared across the raising costs of all other heifers.”

Other appraisals could be on a shift in calving patterns, which would “dramatically” affect some costs, particularly those related to nutrition, she added.

“Major savings of £200-£300 a heifer could be made on calving at 24 months rather than 27 or 28 months,” said Dr Gibbons, citing Royal Veterinary College findings that each day past 24-month calving cost £2.87 a heifer.

Figures

Default targets are 24 months at first calving, weaning at eight weeks, a maturate cow weight of 650kg and heifer lactation yield of 8,000 litres.

“Ideally, the more individual information and values that can be included in the calculator from specific farms, the better,” added Dr Gibbons.

See also: New approach to heifer rearing could boost milk yields

Default values are provided on feeding, AI, margin over purchased feed, utilities, bedding, beef calf values, labour and all costs and requirements relevant to a heifer-rearing enterprise.

Detailed costings are provided for grazing, grass silage (three cuts), maize, wholecrop and green forage catch crops, with values required for dry matter, crude protein, neutral detergent fibre and metabolisable energy.