Friday, 21 May 2010

Are You Weaning Heifers Calves Too Early?

How do You Decide to Wean Calves?
This week I have seen many heifer calves that have just been weaned. When do you wean your calves? How do you decide to wean? Most use age/number of weeks of milk feeding?????? Do you know how much they weigh????
Why NOT..........even a weigh band is useful for calves. However we must step up a notch here & start using scales to weigh heifers regularly.

The groups who have calculated the 'cost of rearing heifers' have discovered that the farmers who spend the most during the milk feeding phase actually have the lowest overall costs for heifer rearing. A number of dairy farmers in the Pasture to Profit Discussion Groups have discovered that to only feed milk for short periods of time is NOT a saving with heifer rearing. This is a very important message. One farmer in the Hybrids group in Devon weaned last year after 8 weeks of milk feeding when the Crossbred dairy calves were 85 kgs liveweight. He spent all spring & summer feeding extra concentrates to the heifers in an attempt to get them up to target.
This year the heifer replacement calves are being weaned after 12 weeks of daily milk feeding & when they have reached the target weaning weight of 100kgs. Much better calves Much better result!
Calf milk powder is often cheaper than wholemilk but you still must feed at least 165grams per litre of water to get good calves. Many think that should be lifted to 200 grams to ensure you reach the target weaning weights on time. Increasing the concentration by reducing the water is a good option as it is the daily intake of Energy/Milksolids that is important for the calf NOT the volume of milk. Calf feeding is about calf growth & the rapid development of the access to a grain like whole maize or a concentrate PLUS straw PLUS grass is very important.

We All Gain From International Visitors
I have been very fortunate to have had a visit from Nuffield Scholar Graeme Nicoll from Victoria Australia. I am also hosting/mentoring French student Gwennoline Caroff from Toulose Uni in France who is looking at heifer rearing practices in Quebec, Denmark, Brittany & UK. So far one of the main differences between the countries is the culling rate (required replacements) & the degree of voluntary culling.
We all learn so much from these exchanges.
So have you weaned your heifer calves too early?
I was excited to see Alex in Hampshire part of the Realfarmers Discussion Group with a new set of Tru Test 3000 cattle scales. These NZ made cattle scales are world class & can record & weigh large numbers of calves very quickly. Calves need only be steady on the platform for a few seconds to accurately record the weight.
Many more farms need to invest in a good set of Cattle Scales....I would recomend Tru Test which is what I used in Australia to regularly weigh over 10,000 heifers for weight gain contacts.

Pasture Covers, Growth & Rotations

Farmers all over the UK (except Cornwall & SW Wales) are reporting falling growth rates & very dry conditions....this is a worry given that spring has only just arrived. Check your pasture wedge graphs to see when holes/deficits are likely to happen on your farm. What are you going to do about it if it doesnt rain? First issue is should you cut all your silage????? Maybe not...maybe you can use the shortest silage to extend your rotation by using it like a crop. If you add in any supplement or deferred grass you MUST extend your round. Getting caught on a short rotation in a dry period is a disaster waiting to happen.

Cumbria 2200kg Av Cover, 67 kg/ha/day pasture growth, 25 days, V Dry
Cheshire Organic 2000, 40 growth, 35 days
Northern Ireland 2237, 97 growth, 22 days demand 66
North Wales 2168, 53 growth, 21 day
Staffordshire 1860, 47 growth, 30 day, very high DM feed
Staffordshire 2050, 52 growth, 27 days very dry
Shropshire 2438, 47 growth,
Shropshire 2000, 59 growth, 25 days
Herefordshire 2075, 65 growth, 20 days, demand 60
Herefordshire 2050, 44 growth, 21 days
Gloucestershire 2068, 68 growth, 20 days
SE Wales 2075, 37 growth, dry already
Derbyshire 1961, 37 growth, 23 days, dry
South West Wales 2100, 107 growth, 20 days
South West Wales organic 2045, 40 growth, 22 days
Limerick Ireland 2100, 75 growth, 21 days
Somerset organic 2260, 48 growth, 34 days
Dorset 2199, 48 growth, 25 days , very dry
Devon 2050, 47 growth, 40 days, very dry
Cornwall 2320, 120 growth
Cornwall 2150, 75 growth, 17 days
Sussex 2079, 37 growth, 21 days, very dry have put autumn herd on OAD milking to reduce demand.
Clearly the lack of rain is threatening pasture growth rates & on farm changes MUST happen NOW

Monday, 3 May 2010

Must Keep Fertility Focus in Dairy Cross Breeding Program

9-12 Week Block Calving….Target 80+% in first 6 weeks
Now that we are using the 12 Week Block Calving Analysis we have a much better idea of what must be improved with our Herd Fertility.
All too often I see farmers either hesitant to cross breed or of more concern just trying any breed to see what happens????
The main advantage of cross breeding in grass fed pasture systems is fertility & cow longevity......more cows incalf quicker & fewer empties. This creates opportunities to increase the number of lactations per cow......a seriously important outcome & a major factor in the Moorepark trials showing the JFX being the most profitable breed. Bulls or AI sires MUST be selected for fertility NUMBER 1
To their credit some farmers are hitting all the Targets (Fantastic result!) mainly thru cross breeding, front end loading with heifers (75%+ calving in the 1st 3 weeks), disease control, culling late calvers (those outside the 12 week window) & ensuring that problem cows if they exist, are sorted early. This includes cows that are in light condition or have for some reason lost condition score recently. The best fertility herds have very few problems…..surprise, surprise!
When two breeds are crossed, intuitively we expect the performance of the crossbred offspring to fall midway between that of the parent breeds. However, in practice the performance of crossbreds is often better than we expect, due to heterosis or hybrid vigour. This is measured by the difference between observed and expected for the measured trait and is usually greatest in traits associated with reproduction, survival and overall fitness, while being less for production traits such as milk production and growth.
So for farmers who have serious concerns about the survival rate of their cows, crossbreeding is the most practical tool currently available in relation to breeding decisions.
Farmers are sometimes put off crossbreeding by uncertainty about how to proceed with a crossbreeding program beyond the first cross. The strategy that captures the greatest amount of the first cross hybrid vigour is called "rotational crossing". In this scheme you mate the cross‑bred cow to the opposite breed of sire of her own sire. For example, if the cow is by a Holstein‑Friesian bull you mate her to a Jersey. If she is by a Jersey bull herself, then you mate her to a NZ Friesian or a carefully selected high fertility Holstein.
On a whole herd basis, this rotational crossing preserves two thirds of the original first cross hybrid vigour if you are working with two parent breeds.

Current Research at Hillsborough in Northern Ireland suggests the major advantage of cross breeding is in increased fertility. Comparing Holstein 1st & 2nd lactation cows with Jersey X Holsteins……The XBred cows had less days to first observed heat cycle, fewer days to 1st AI service, higher conception to 1st AI & a much higher % in calf in the 1st 12 weeks. Interestingly the value of the milk produced was very similar due to the higher components of Milkfat & Protein.
Fertility measure
Holsteins vs Jersey X Holsteins
Conception to 1st AI
Cows Incalf after 12 wks
Trial data from Hillsborough Northern Ireland using 1st & 2nd lactation cows (Conrad Ferris)

Elaine Vance's work with cross breeding at Hillsborough in Northern Ireland shows higher conception rates to 1st service & higher pregnancy rates after 12 weeks to the crossbred JFX cows. This data is very similar to the Moorepark Strain trial where the profitability of the three strains of Holstein-Freisians was compared. The profitability of the NZ Friesian strain herd was consistently the highest mainly because the cost of replacement heifers was always lower due to the higher fertility of the NZ bred cows.

Getting cows in calf is a complicated set of “getting it right management” yet the successful farms keep it simple.
Calves must get off to a good start. Too few herds are getting the 75% target for heifers & much of this goes back to the rearing!
Heifers need to be carefully watched, weighed & fed.
Disease must be eliminated eg BVD which I suspect is rife in both UK & Ireland
Front end load the calving pattern with heifers Plus plenty of bull power for heifers. Minimum 1:20 ratio.
Be very conscious of cow condition & changes in condition for individual cows
Be prepared to use OAD milking to retain cows in the front 9 weeks
Excellent heat detection eg. Spray paint tail paint on heifers with a second colour
Cross Breeding selecting breeds & bulls on fertility & components
Good records…..especially of cows “with a history” of problems at calving
Excellent staff, who know the targets & are focussed on the goals
Courage to go “cold Turkey” if your calving is too spread
Everyone is refreshed after calving & keen to succeed
Analyse your 12 week block & focus on what needs to change in your herd.
What do you think? Please add your comments below