Bovis ISSN 2398-2993

Calf weaning and feeding

Synonym(s): Youngstock nutrition

Contributor(s): Alistair Macrae, Mike Reynolds

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Importance of youngstock rearing nutrition

  • Rearing sufficient replacement heifers is critical if the herd is to maintain herd size, ie replace the number of animals culled at the end of their productive lives, and/or expand the herd.
  • Average UK culling rate is approximately 25%, and this means that a UK farm aiming to calve down heifers at 24 months of age will have just over 55 replacement heifers being reared (allowing for 5% heifer mortality). However, the UK average Age at First Calving (AFC) is around 28 months of age, meaning that the average UK farm will have an additional 9 replacement heifers being reared (64 in total).
  • Average cost of rearing a replacement heifer from birth to first calving in the UK is currently approximately 3.2ppl (AHDB 2012), or £1,819 for each heifer reared (Boulton et al, 2017). 36.8% of this cost is associated with nutrition, 22.3% with labor, and 4.1% with health and disease.
  • Table 1 below shows that breakdown of heifer rearing costs (Boulton et al, 2017):
  Age at end of period (day) Total cost (£) Daily cost (£/day)
Periods Mean Range Mean Range Mean Range
Birth to weaning 62±13 42 to
112
£195.15 £94.64 to 499.80 £3.14 £1.68 to £6.11
Weaning to conception 509±60 365 to
700
£745.94 £295.32 to £1745.85 £1.65 £0.75 to £2.97
Conception to calving 784±60 639 to
973
£450.36 £153.11 to £784.00 £1.64 £0.56 to £2.86
 
  • The ideal target is to calve heifers down at 24 months of age (also termed Age at First Calving: AFC). A number of studies worldwide have shown the advantages of calving heifers at 24 months of age compared to 30 or even 36 months of age including increased lifetime milk production (Lifetime Daily Yield), quicker genetic improvement in the herd, improvements in fertility, better farm management and overall benefits in cost of replacement heifer rearing.
  • Indeed, some herds are even calving heifers down at 22 months of age successfully, which illustrates the importance of size and growth rates compared to age. Provided that good growth rates are achieved, and target weights met, there should be no barriers to calving down at 22 months of age.
  • Boulton et al (2017) found that there was an increase in the average cost of rearing of £2.87 for each extra day of AFC. Most heifers paid back their rearing costs after 1.5 lactations (or 530 days after their first calving).
  • To achieve an average AFC of 24 months, Holstein heifers must grow at an average of 0.7-0.8 kg per day. Correct feeding and monitoring of calves from weaning until first calving is critical to achieving this.

Weaning the dairy calf

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Weaning the beef calf

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Nutritional requirements for youngstock growth

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Monitoring of youngstock nutrition

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Further Reading

Publications

Refereed Papers

  • Recent reference from PubMed and VetMedResource.
  • Boulton A C, Rushton J & Wathes D C (2017) An empirical analysis of the cost of rearing dairy heifers from birth to first calving and the time taken to repay these costs. Animal 11 (8), 1372-1380 PubMed.
  • Zanton G I & Heinrichs A J (2007) The effects of controlled feeding of a high-forage or high-concentrate ration on heifer growth and first-lactation milk production. J Dairy Sci 90 (7), 3388-3396 PubMed.

Other sources of information


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