Benchmarking Heifer Performance – April Newsletter

By John Walsh

Recently we have been using a new benchmarking tool to assess how the dairy farms we look after are performing. One metric we have benchmarked, is age at first calving for heifers. This average can give an indication of heifer breeding efficiency and overall management of heifers within your herd. This metric is also commonly used by milk buyers to assess herd performance.

There are many benefits of achieving age at first calving targets and include: lower rearing costs per heifer, fewer heifers needed to be kept on the farm at one time, improved fertility, improved lifetime production and lower culling rates.

As with any average, age at first calving may be a true representative of a herds heifer breeding efficiency, but it can also hide areas of management that may not be optimal. For example, you may have a large spread of ages with some very young heifers and older heifers contributing to the average. Therefore, this figure may look good but heifer performance may not be optimal.

The average also doesn’t take into account target weight at first service and calving – the risk of focusing on age at first calving is that it can sometimes compromise the performance of those animals because they’ve calved younger but might be below weight at first calving. This will have an impact on production and potentially survivability. It’s very important when calving at around 24 months that you’re hitting target weights right the way through the process, at service and when calving.

Fig 1. Shows how the herds we look after (in blue) are performing compared to national figures (in grey).

We have benchmarked our herds compared to national averages (see Fig. 1) If you want to know how your herd is performing, please speak to either your clinical vet or to one of our specialist youngstock vets.

These are several reasons that animals are not hitting the target age at first calving. These can be down to farmers animals at a certain age, poor growth rates, poor fertility or fertility management, high disease incidence or nutritional issues. Our specialist young stock vets will start by looking at the age of first calving as a guide to overall performance, but they will also assess how heifers are performing with target weights through to calving, how these animals are milking in their first lactation, how many heifers reach their second calving and heifer breeding performance. If you would like a visit to assess your heifer management please give us a call.

To read the full newsletter please go to our Monthly Newsletters page.