How to improve the performance of dairy heifer calves

The performance of your dairy heifers can make all the difference to your bottom line.

Staying healthy from day dot

The first few months of life? They are a critical time for any animal. It’s no different with calves. But did you know that the first two months of a calf’s life1 can determine their lifetime productivity? Experts can predict how profitable a dairy heifer is likely to be simply by observing its formative weeks. And the healthier your herd is, the more profitable it’s likely to be.

Each heifer’s growth rate is directly linked to its:

- age at first calving2
- longevity in the herd3
- milk yields during first and second lactation4,5,6

It’s a remarkable finding. One that makes it vital to make sure your calves get precisely the right care during their first weeks of life. 

Breathe easy...

So, we have established that healthy young calves grow up to be productive dairy heifers. That makes it crucial to keep your calves safe from respiratory illnesses. Respiratory health is one of the most important aspects of a calf’s wellbeing. It’s essential for good growth and profitable lifetime performance. You could add more than £921 to the lifetime value of each heifer by looking after their respiratory health when they are young. Yet 67% of cases of pneumonia occur in calves less than three months old.

How can you improve respiratory health?

The list of best practices on calf management is long. But there are four basic principles you should follow to help prevent respiratory illness in your herd. 

  1. Ensure optimal colostrum intake - Colostrum is full of antibodies that boost calves’ immune systems and help to keep them healthy 
  2. Vaccinate early - Vaccines can keep your herd protected from respiratory illnesses like pneumonia
  3. Manage group size - Calves should be grouped in sizes no larger than 12
  4. Happy housing conditions - The housing for your calves should be warm, dry and draught-free, with enough ventilation to prevent the build-up of viruses and bacteria


1. BACH, A. (2012) J Anim Sci 90, 1835-1845

2. VAN DER FELS-KLERX, H.J. et al. (2002) Livestock Production Science 75, 157-166

3. BACH, A. (2011) J Dairy Sci 94 (2), 1052-1057

4. BACH, A. (2012) J Anim Sci 90, 1835-1845

5. VAN DER FELS-KLERX, H.J. et al. (2002) Livestock Production Science 75, 157-166

6. MORRISON S. (2011) Zoetis Conference Rhodes (

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