June Gold Cup comment: Strong focus on heifer rearing

The 2017 NMR/RABDF Gold Cup winners—the Norman family from Herefordshire—report on the latest news from The Leen and highlight the key points that came out of a group meeting on the unit which focused on the importance of rearing productive herd replacements.

What a difference a month makes!
We have had a very productive month.  First and second cut silage are in the pit.  First cut yield was down 20% per hectare from last year, which is no surprise given the slow spring we’ve all endured.

I haven’t had the weighbridge data for second cut, as our contractors finished at 11pm last night.  However looking at the pile in the pit this morning we have grown a significant amount in the last 28 days.

The first cut was followed with 30m3 of digestate and we will apply 25m3 after second cut.  Our herd manager Krisztian has taken the lead from Chris with the silage this year and is pushing for a five cut system, aiming for superb quality.  We avoided the rain on first cut but caught 7.0mm on the second, it will be interesting to see the analysis when they come through.
 We direct drilled our maize for the second year which is up and away, with a better germination than last year.

The cows are producing 1.39 kg of milk solids per day, (4.95% fat and 3.75% protein) 128 SCC and 30 Bactoscan.

The cows are being fed 0.5kg concentrate and 17kg DM grass.  We have averaged 85.5kg DM/ha/day grass growth over the past month which is pretty much what we would expect.

Wye Graze group meeting
We’ve had our grazing group visit here—we visit a different farm in the group every month—which I can only liken to going to the gym (not that I do!).  It is pretty gruelling while you are going through it but you are always significantly better off for the experience.

Wyegraze is a group of farmers that have been together as a grazing group for over 15 years.  We openly share our costings, farms and issues.  It is currently facilitated by Moana Puha (LIC).

In my farming life I can safely say this network of farmers is and has been a great resource for our business.  It has been fundamental to our direction, growth and dare I say, success.

Addressing fertility issues
These days, as Chris and I take more of a back seat in the management of the dairy it was left to Krisztian to host this day.  He chose our high empty rate this year (19% after 10 weeks AI) to be the main focus for the group.

From his own analysis he had identified a higher rate of first lactation heifers not getting back in calf and I will share with you some of the group summary notes on this, as I feel there are some very valid learnings here.


Young stock live weight targets -  this area in recent years has been the number one issue for poor herd fertility across New Zealand dairy farms.  Make this part of your business a non-negotiable priority!

Well grown heifers have:

  • Improved milk production
  • Greater lifetime productivity
  • Reduced replacement costs

Start with setting clear priorities:

  • Weigh calves - nothing beats actual live weights
  • Have a strategy for dealing with animals that do not achieve target at weigh in time
  • Breeding policy—are they robust animals, of sound genetics that are growing well?
  • Give fresh grass every day!  Locking young stock in a paddock and leaving them for days on end will only stunt their growth.
  • Ensure quality of feed is optimum—a calf cannot eat enough if offered 10.5ME only to grow well. Inevitably, the ultimate is to break feed them but don’t push them too hard.  Quality is king!
  • The first year is the most important—she grows most of her muscle and bone in this period. Get the frame on her.  The more you hinder her growth in the first year, the more you lessen her chance of longevity in the herd.  Production and herd fertility will more than likely also be compromised.
  • General health, wellbeing, and worming—what is your appetite for risk like?  Be proactive rather than reactive.
  • Minerals—a healthy animal is better able to look after itself.  If it’s not in the feed then what is she missing?
  • Do a feed budget for your heifers
  • Body weight is the key driver of puberty it is important that heifers reach key live weight targets if they are going to reach puberty at 12 months and get in calf at 15 months.  Of significant importance is the 12 month target for mammary development.

How to get the mature weight of your herd
Weigh 10% or more (more is better) third and fourth lactation cows—five to seven year olds—100 to 120 days post calving.

As a heifer enters the herd as a 22 month old, priority of feed goes in this order:

1: Maintenance
2: Growth
3:. Production
4: Getting in calf

You can understand why some heifers have absolutely NO chance of getting back in calf!

A gauge for whether your young stock have been grown well:

  • Heifers should be doing 75% of the main herds —six to eight year olds production at peak.
  • Three year olds should be at 85% at peak and 95% at the end of the season.

I know these are well known facts and statistics but we were los-ing out with these highly valuable animals.  I think I said before, we are not perfect but we are learning by our mistakes.

Gold Cup open day
I am writing as we prepare for the Gold Cup open day, and again credit is due to the staff because the farm is almost always in a good enough state to show people around, so the tidy up work hasn’t been too arduous  You will be reading this article after the Gold Cup open day.  I do hope those of you that made it enjoyed yourselves and possibly even learnt something. Having never been to a Gold Cup open day, we weren’t quite sure what we let ourselves in for.

Reprinted from the June 2018 edition of British Dairying. To see the original article please visit the British Dairying website.