Whether your heifers are staying on-farm or heading to grazing over the coming months, it’s important to ensure everything’s in place now to give your girls the best growth going into winter to achieve their liveweight targets. Hitting heifer liveweight targets is critical to achieve puberty at 12 to 13 months and be ready for mating at 13 to 15 months. But liveweight gains are typically at their lowest in winter when heifers are heading into tighter feed conditions.
Ensure your heifers are at or above their liveweight targets going into winter. Set minimum targets they must reach prior to leaving the farm, or agree on targets with your grazier to ensure the heifers start winter healthy and well-grown.
Adverse event plans
Having a plan in place for any adverse events (e.g. flood, snowstorm, or disease outbreak) will ensure your heifers maintain adequate feed intakes, regardless of where they’re grazing. Feed budgeting is a useful way to predict feed shortfalls and highlight deviations from expected feed supply that could make it challenging to achieve heifer liveweight targets.
Evidence shows that hitting liveweight targets has a lifelong effect on a heifer’s productive and reproductive performance, as well as her survivability in the herd. Weighing regularly will pick up any potential issues early, and it’s important to take action right away. Recording and monitoring changes in weight gain will make it easier for you to identify animals that slip behind.
Heifer growth rates at a herd level can vary greatly depending on feed supply in different seasons. Some variation is okay but if too many individuals have low weight gain, it can indicate a pending mob issue. Monitor regularly so you can catch up weight gain when needed.
Contracts and plans
A good contract will outline actions for unexpected outcomes and how to mitigate the effects of adverse events and extreme climatic events. A good plan also allows you to negotiate periods of excess supply or tight demand, and monitoring provides timely feedback for proactive decision-making and negotiation.
- Ensure your heifers are achieving liveweight targets prior to winter grazing.
- Create an adverse event plan so all staff and contractors know what to do.
- Weigh your heifers regularly so you can pick up on issues early and take action.
Find out more about contract grazing of dairy heifers at dairynz.co.nz/heifers
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy April 2019