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Dairy Heifers behind Target on a lot of Farms

02 February 2024
Type Media Article

By John McCabe, Teagasc – Aurivo Farm Profitability Programme

I have seen many bunches of heifers weighed in the past few weeks and their progress is worrying in many cases. 2023 was a hard year on replacement heifers. July was wet and so was the autumn. 2nd cut silage was poor in a lot of cases.

I have also seen many bunches of heifers behind target in the years preceding 2023 and my suspicion is that it is not all down to the weather of 2023 - some farms have taken the eye off the ball with rearing replacements.

Some reasons I believe we are seeing more examples of underweight heifers are:

  • In some scenarios it is an overall stocking rate/grass supply issue whereby as much ground as possible is closed to fill the pits and the heifers are not allocated enough area yet expected to grow well.
  • Calf rearing can go wrong and if it does, weanlings will struggle to reach target weight.
  • Labour –having the time to give heifers the attention they need
  • Lack of focus on the important and simple things – are we focused enough on the next generation of milking cows?

Milk and Fertility:

It is a well-documented and proven fact that underweight heifers achieve poor fertility results; milk poorly in 1st and subsequent lactations, and less of them reach their 3rd lactation.

New Herdplus Facility:
ICBF Herdplus have launched a superb new facility whereby you can enter the weight of the heifers and it will highlight in red, any animals that are behind target based on her potential size as a cow. Not all cows are created equally. One heifer will grow into a bigger cow than another and thus needs to be at a different weight than a heifer that will grow into a smaller cow. See example (figure 1) of a bunch that were weighed last week where 20 out of 22 are deemed to be behind target.

Fig 1

And see example (figure 2) of another bunch that were weighed in January where just 3 out of 25 are deemed to be behind target.

Fig 2

For farms with underweight heifers – be very careful with either synchronisation programmes; sexed semen; or both this season as underweight heifers hit puberty later and have compromised fertility compared to on-target animals.

Scales are available to rent
If you don’t have your own scales - Aurivo Homeland Stores will rent you a weighing scales for €50. There are also technicians that will weigh the animals for you (search “Weighing

ICBF” on the internet and you will find the name and number of someone local to you).