21 June 2002

Heifers need best start to calve at 24 months

By Jonathan Long

CALVING dairy heifers at 24 months old could save up to £170 a head a month in rearing costs and lost milk sales.

But if producers are to reach the goal of calving heifers at two years old then calves must be given the best possible start, says Andy Richardson of Volac.

"For heifers to calve at 24 months old they need to be well forward at all stages and have fast frame growth," says Mr Richardson.

With high levels of AI in the UK there is a great deal of genetic potential in the national herd. But this is not being fully exploited and many heifers dont make it past first or second lactations.

"Calves need to gain about 800g/day in their first six weeks if they are to meet the challenge of calving at 24 months. This cannot be achieved by simply increasing dry feed intake," suggests Mr Richardson.

"Calves should be offered higher volumes of milk replacer as they are more able to convert this than dry feed due to their immature gut. To gain 800g a day of liveweight, calves must be given milk replacer containing 900g of milk powder with a high protein content, up to 26 or 27%."

By reducing the protein to energy ratio in milk replacer over time, calves are encouraged to find energy from dry feeds. This means that despite higher milk replacement intakes, there is minimal loss of dry feed intake and consequently no growth check at weaning, says Mr Richardson.

"Many producers believe feeding high levels of milk replacer will not be economical as feed conversion wont keep up. But feed conversion rates actually improve with higher intakes. In addition, faster growing calves tend to have better developed immune systems."

Feeding 900g a day of milk replacer rather than the standard 500g a day will cost about an extra £24 a calf when using Volacs Heiferlac. But this is outweighed by the benefits of calving heifers at 24 months, says Mr Richardson. &#42


Feeding more milk to dairy heifer calves may boost their chances of calving earlier.

&#8226 Increase intake of milk replacer.

&#8226 High protein content.

&#8226 Improved health.