Heifer Management

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Heifers need high-quality supplements for at least 6 months of the year.

On most dairy farms heifers won’t cover their rearing costs until they reach their second lactation. If they don’t get there they are costing you money when they are culled.

An extra 50kg in bodyweight at first calving means 850 litres more in the vat over her lifetime (and this is conservative). Having a feed plan for your heifers is as important as it is for your milkers. It is easy to let your heifers drop down the priority list. Growing heavier, well-framed heifers is an investment for the future of your farm.


Heavier, well-framed heifers:

• Get in calf easier the first time

• Produce more milk in their first lactation

• Get back in calf sooner for their 2nd lactation

• Stay in the herd longer

• Need less help calving

• Cope better with herd competition



The critical times for supplementation are post weaning and when high quality pasture is not available

The key to managing feed deficits is to start planning a month before it starts drying off  so you have feed ready when your heifers need it

A quality supplement means:

At least 11.5 megajoules of metabolisable energy (ME) per kilogram of dry matter (DM) and 16% crude protein.

To achieve this, the supplement will probably need to include a cereal and a legume.

Many people recognise that feeding supplements to heifers is a profitable investment. But the challenge is often the time, effort and logistics involved in putting it into practice. Consider a feeding system to save time, such as a portable feeder or self feeder.

The In Calf website and Dairy Australia Grains 2 milk websites have some excellent tools and information for feed budgeting and heifer management.  www.dairyaustralian.com.au and www.incalf.com.au



How to keep on target

Weighing heifers is the best way to keep track of their progress. The process is simple:


1. Know your target weight

Use the InCalf Growth Target Rule of Thumb to work out the target weight for your heifers at any age (www.incalf.com.au) In a seasonal/split herd, assume all your calves are the same age as the oldest in the group, as they will all be mated at the same time.


2. Draft as you weigh

Weigh your heifers every 3 months and draft out those below the target weight for preferential feeding. Weighing is usually a straight forward task and can be linked with other animal health jobs, such as drenching young stock.

Preferentially feed

The best way to help heifers below the target weight to catch up is to separate them and give them extra feed and TLC. Splitting them into a separate group reduces the competition for feed and enables you to direct supplements to the heifers that need it most.


There is an excellent feed budgeting tool at www.dairyaustralia.com.au and look for the grains 2 milk factsheet #2.