An LIC study of more than 105,000 animals showed 73 percent were more than 5 percent underweight at 22 months old.
The Heifer Grazing Project’s focus farms are part of work addressing that statistic and seeking to improve the national six-week in-calf rate, and is led by DairyNZ in collaboration with dairy farmers, graziers, grazing companies, vets, Beef + Lamb and LIC.
DairyNZ’s Sarah Dirks says the grazier’s role cannot be underestimated.
“A group of heifers that are below target liveweight will have a lower six-week in-calf rate, a higher not in-calf rate and lower milk production,” says Sarah.
She cites a published paper at last year’s Australasian Dairy Science Symposium.
“The paper’s hypothesis was that heifers that achieved 90 percent mature liveweight at calving could produce an extra 2-2.5kg MS per kg of liveweight over an average life of five lactations, compared to being behind target,”
“So, for a 50kg improvement to achieve target weight, that would translate to 100-125kg MS over five seasons.”
Over a period of two months, at the end of 2013, Sarah met with 100 farmers, graziers, and rural professionals to explore the dairy farmer/grazier relationship. Their responses highlighted the need for examples of graziers that were doing well, which led to the focus farms.
“One of the top reasons farmers gave for heifers not being raised as well as they could, was the gap in relationships between parties,” says Sarah.
“Specific answers ranged from not having an agreed contract to having different expectations, like who was responsible for supplying extra feed.”
Sarah says the purpose of the focus farms – in Northland, King Country, North Otago and Manawatu – is two-fold.
“We really want to provide farmers growing heifers with better information and allow them to share their experiences with others – up until now there has been a knowledge gap in this area.
“The other goal is to strengthen relationships between graziers and dairy farmers. Are expectations being met from both sides, and if not, why not? These focus farms will help us delve into some of these issues and create tailored resources to address some of these questions.”
Tips for dairy farmers who graze heifers off-farm
- Farmers with well-grown heifers use both minimum age and minimum weight targets for weaning calves off milk.
- Heifers should be transitioned to an all-grass diet for a couple of weeks or meal should be sent with the stock to prevent reduced growth when relocating heifers to grazing.
- Be clear with expectations. Communicate what the expected weights are for the end of the grazing term.
- Weighing is the only objective way to assess that heifers are growing well and on target.
- Animal health plans should be specific to the farm the heifer is being grazed on. Parasite pressure and mineral deficiencies are unique to each farm.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy February 2015