Rick Burke, a Bay of Plenty grazier, says he likes to start with heifers as calves and take them through their first winter as he is a big believer in giving them a great start.
“We get them when they are maybe 80-100kg and we don’t wean them off meal (supplied by the owner) until they are about 110kg.”
Rick and Jan run 3000 stock units on their 185ha effective farm near Katikati.
For Rick, the key is organisation and ensuring a comprehensive feed programme to cover the periods where feed is scarce.
“Graziers need to ensure they have enough feed for heifers and get them into their winter round early.
“We’ve changed the supplement we use over the last three years. We’ve gone away from silage and introduced palm kernel into our system as we’ve found it better quality, with consistently higher energy with less wastage.”
Spring feed is fully utilised and palm kernel is added as a supplement during the deficit periods or if feed quality drops.
They have an animal health programme, controlled by Rick, and work closely with a vet to address any issues immediately, paying close attention to ensure heifers hit target benchmark weights at the six, nine, 14 and 22 month periods of age.
“For a grazier, you have to treat dairy heifers like your capital stock.
“We put a lot of focus into ensuring we get them on a rising plane about 30 days before the bull goes out.”
He says it pays off in the high in-calf success rate.
“I aim for 95 percent submitted in the first three weeks of mating, and hopefully getting in-calf in that period.”
DairyNZ's Heifer Grazing Project
In December 2014, five focus farms started in Northland, King Country, Lower North Island and Otago to provide graziers and farmers with knowledge and resources to grow heifers better and to improve the national six-week in-calf rate.
Additional focus farms are likely to start this year in Canterbury and Taranaki.
The project is being led by DairyNZ in collaboration with dairy farmers, graziers, grazing companies, vets, Beef + Lamb and LIC.
An update on the project will be presented at the Smaller Milk and Supply Herds conference (SMASH) and the South Island Dairy Event (SIDE), both in June.
For more information on the project, visit dairynz.co.nz/heifergrazing.
This work is jointly funded by industry with the Ministry for Primary Industries, through the Primary Growth Partnership’s Transforming the Dairy Value Chain programme.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy June 2015