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A Team Approach To Heifer Rearing


The growth targets, cost, disease precautions and nutrition for rearing dairy heifers were the thoroughly debated topics at a workshop organised by Zoetis in conjunction with CAFRE, John Thompson and Sons and Knockanboy Veterinary Clinic. Aurelie Moralis, veterinary surgeon with Zoetis emphasised that calves should get a minimum of three litres of colostrum in the first six hours of life. The timing and volume of this is vital but it is amazing how often this does not happen on farm. Ideally new born calves should be moved from the calving pens as soon as possible To ensure protection against BRSv and PI3v, two key respiratory viruses in young calves, Rispoval® IntraNasal can be administered as a single dose at nine days of age, to provide 12 weeks protection. At 12 and 15 weeks of age Rispoval® 4 can be given by intramuscular injection to provide a further six months protection against BRSv and PI3v and also provide cover against IBR, and BVDv. Aurelie went on to point out that since Rispoval® IntraNasal can be administered from just nine days of age, it provides the earliest protection against BRSv and PI3v, ensuring that calves are covered during this critical pre-weaning period when pneumonia can have a significant impact on future productivity. Aurelie highlighted the importance of achieving growth targets and monitoring growth early on in life. She explained that high calf growth rates from 0-9 months of age, leading to excellent fertility of maiden heifers and calving at 21-23 months resulted in survival rates of 80% from first calving to 5 years of age, and a total milk production of 24000 litres over five years from birth. Heifers calving at 30 months as a result of poor calf growth rates ended up with an average milk production of 8000 litres over 5 years and a survival rate of only 30%!

Heifer Replacement Costs

Ann Brown, CAFRE informed the audience that the average cost to rear a replacement heifer is in the region of £2,000 per heifer. On a farm with a 30% replacement rate and a yield of 7,500 litres per cow this equates to a cost of 6 pence per litre. There is a significant range in rearing costs with the top CAFRE benchmarkers achieving an average rearing cost of £1,500 per head. These farms focus closely on all aspects of the heifer rearing enterprise such as careful management of calves from birth through to weaning to reduce disease risks. They also monitor heifer growth rates and target concentrate feeding to achieve earlier service weights to have heifers calving at two years of age. Careful control of farm overhead costs is also important in reducing the cost of heifer rearing and milk production.

Nutritional Management

These savings and increased production were reiterated by Maryjane Robinson, Nutritionist with John Thompson and Sons. She emphasised that bulling of young heifers should commence at 13 to 15 months with a target weight of 370 kilos. This would allow the farmer to produce a heifer calving down at 24 months at 580 kilos with a body score of 3. She noted that the Northern Ireland age for calving heifers is 33 months so there is room for a marked improvement.The research carried out by CAFRE/AFBI/Thompsons in their heifer project in 2010 had  highlighted these benefits and outlined a management blueprint for all calving dates and feeding systems which would allow them to achieve the 0.8 kilos daily liveweight gain required.The importance of dry cow nutrition which impacts on the foetus, and colostrum quantity and quality was outlined. Straw is preferable to hay in order to control acidosis and water is often restricted on many farms as they believe calves are receiving enough fluids from milk. However it s needed to drive meal intakes which contain salt.The use of weigh bands to monitor weight is necessary but a more simplistic approach of a paint line in house/cattle crush can by used to see if wither heights are on target for various ages. 

Veterinary Support

Disease immunity in the calf is positively influenced by good dry period management of the dam, good colostrum management, adequate (milk) feeding and gradual weaning. A blood sample taken from a 3-7 day old calf will give a good idea about the colostrum management. To achieve the 0.8kg growth /day needed to reach target growth at service, a calf needs 0.9-1kg milk solids per day, Patricia Welch from Knockanboy Veterinary Clinic told the workshop. Reduction in challenges can be achieved by creating (preventative) treatment protocols based on samples taken on farm. Most of these samples can now be tested in-house with a quick turn-over. Another important aspect of veterinary support is assessing the calves environmental challenges. Checking there is appropriate and adequate ventilation and bedding, ensuring temperature and humidity control. Patricia added “We need to agree targets to ensure successful management. Making records for weight, height, disease prevention and treatments available for quarterly or biannual reviews allows the team to assess if targets are met. When farmer, vet and nutritionist work together they can make heifer rearing a success”.

Sam Steele and Thomas Steele with Hugh Conn, right, discuss heifer rearing targets with Maryjane Robinson from John Thompson and Sons.

Veterinary surgeons, Patricia Welch from Knockanboy Veterinary Clinic, Dervock and Aurlie Moralis, Zoetis debate the various disease protoco

Speakers at the Heifer Rearing workshop in Coleraine were Patricia Welch, Knockanboy Veterinary Clinic, Dervock; Maryjane Robinson, John Tho

Posted 12,02,15 by allison.

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