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Maximising the productive value of heifers

14 November 2013

Maximising the productive value of heifers

Some heifers are calving at only 82% of their mature weight rather than the target of 90%, recent dairy industry statistics reveal.

With some farmers struggling to keep condition on stock during the drought last year, further support may be required to assist heifers to reach target weights.

SealesWinslow Nutritionist Wendy Morgan says that the strategic use of animal feed can assist heifers to reach their target weight by the time they calve, resulting in the animals being more profitable in the herd, using the nutrients and energy from pasture for production of milk solids, rather than for growth. 

“Research has shown that well grown heifers are more successful at getting back in calf, cope better in the herd with mature cows and produce a higher level of milk solids,” says Miss Morgan.

With mating season just around the corner good animal nutrition will also boost chances of conception, as underweight cows will prioritise their energy to support maintenance.

“If the cow is not receiving enough energy to support maintenance and growth, she will not have the spare energy available for getting in calf, or even to show she is cycling, which in itself is an energy demanding activity.”

The lack of size of heifers is shown clearly in the data available from the LIC/DairyNZ New Zealand Dairy Statistics 2011-12.  The data reports an average weight of a Holstein-Friesian at 2 years of age (first calver) at 420 kg, whereas by the age of 6 (fourth calving) she has grown to around 515 kg, an increase of 95 kg. Therefore, she is only calving in at 82% of her mature weight rather than the target of 90% (464 kg).

While ideal spring conditions have seen strong pasture growth, supplementation can complement pasture grazing and deliver higher levels of nutrients than pasture alone.

Miss Morgan says that farmers needn’t be put off by the potential hassle of feeding supplements where heifers are being grazed on a run off block away from the main farm, as there are convenient feed options available. In addition, farmers may not want to run this stock through the shed even if they are close by. 

“Products such as Ricebran pellets, which are rich in essential fatty acids important in improving herd fertility, can be fed out in troughs in the paddock due to the slow release starches they contain. 

“They are also rich in starch and contain the majority of vitamins including B and E, phosphorus and other minerals, protein, fat and easily digested fibre.  Essentially you are looking at a concentrated combination of starch and high quality fat which supports both condition and energy balance for mating.”

Miss Morgan also recommends the practice of agreeing liveweight targets for heifers with graziers to ensure growth stays on track throughout the duration of grazing.

For more information phone SealesWinslow on 800 007766 or email


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