Following a successful calf rearing programme, post weaning, what are your targets for your replacement heifers and more importantly, how do you achieve those targets?

For a heifer to be calving down at 24 months, we should be aiming for:

  • Daily liveweight gains of 0.8-0.9kg/day from birth
  • Target bulling weight of 380kg
  • Aim to start serving heifers at 13-15 months of age
  • Excellent frame growth but not over conditioned

To achieve consistent gains of 0.8-0.9kg/day along with optimised frame development, firstly we must minimise any stress at weaning, transitioning any ration changes gradually and to good effect
and being mindful of the stress caused with group movements, shed movements or movements to different farms where heifers may be reared.
A heifers ration must be palatable, well balanced and provide for all mineral and vitamin requirements. All to often heifer replacements are challenged with the scraps from the silage pit that
we do not want to feed to the milking herd or later cuts of variable quality forage, all placing additional pressure on the heifers ability to achieve target daily gains.
At this time of year, a lot of replacement heifers are turned out to grass, so we must not lose focus on grass quality and availability, as well as supplementing these animals where required to ensure
we are still achieving our growth targets.

Whether your replacements are housed all year round, or have access to grazing during summer months, their nutritional requirements to hit your age at first calving targets need to be met.
Assessing forage quality, formulating suitable rations, utilising weight recordings where possible and tracking intakes give us a better understanding of heifer performance and where improvements
can be made. Having good quality heifers to replace cows leaving the herd or for fresh heifer sales is an important factor for any dairy. Everyone will have their own take on the cost of rearing heifers, but one thing is for sure it will be the second highest individual cost on the dairy.

Estimates generally lye somewhere around £1650.00 per head, but with well grown heifers producing more milk, every 50kg in weight below target calving weight is equivalent to a loss of
2kg of milk per day during the first lactation. A clear focus on achieving heifer targets could therefore be worth at least another £180 per heifer over a 305 day 1 st lactation.

To achieve these targets, the Davidsons Performance range of calf and heifer feeds are specifically formulated to develop well framed, healthy, fertile heifers. Using balanced formulations and with a
focus on mineral supplementation, the Performance range includes Zinpro @ trace minerals in the form of the Availa 3 package, with 22 feeding trials showing the benefits of Zinpro @ Zinc, with
with daily liveweight gains improving by 3.26% and feed efficiency by over 4.05%. Younger calves also benefit from supplementation with Availa minerals. Newly weaned calves eat
more, grow faster but still have improved feed efficiency compared to their cohorts fed a standard trace mineral pack (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Impact of Zinpro@ performance Minerals on dry matter intake and daily gain

Figure 1. Impact of Zinpro@ performance Minerals on dry matter intake and daily gain

The benefits of a bespoke mineral offering for replacement heifers is also seen in both improved hoof health and fertility, (Figure 2) compared with inorganic minerals.

Figure 2. Effect of Availa supplementation on replacement heifer performance

Figure 2. Effect of Availa supplementation on replacement heifer performance


The benefits of a successful heifer rearing programme are significant for any business, and having well developed, healthy, fertile heifers entering into the herd should be achievable, and is something we believe must not be compromised. For the future success of your herd, can you afford for your heifers not to hit target?


James Bendle - Dairy Tech Consultant

James Bendle – Dairy Tech Consultant