19 August 1997

Bring in heifers before they calve

DAIRY heifers due to calve this autumn should be housed about six weeks before calving and introduced to the post-calving ration.

Independent vet consultant Tony Andrews warns that in-calf heifers may become lame if it has been soft underfoot outside and they are introduced to hard surfaces just before calving.

"Bring all heifers in at least six weeks before calving to allow them to acclimatise."

Cheshire vet Neil Howie agrees. Acclimatising heifers to buildings, cubicles and the post-calving ration is vital, and will reduce bullying and lameness.

"With an open autumn in prospect, heifers can easily become overfat and grow a large calf, increasing risk of calving difficulties. Later in the season, they may not be able to get maintenance rations from grass alone, and may suffer from negative energy balance."

He also warns that the rumen takes 10-14 days to adjust to new rations. The ration should be introduced about two weeks before heifers calve, but body condition should be taken into account.

"If heifers are fed the post-calving ration only after they have calved, they basically starve for the first 10-14 days, but will continue to produce milk by milking off their backs."

The ration should be introduced about two weeks before heifers calve, but body condition should be taken into account, he advises.