Dairy farming

How to select Heifers

Why select heifers?

Your heifers are the future of your farm; they’re also one of the top three costs on a dairy farm. It is therefore vital to ensure that you focus your investment on your best. Knowing which animals are going to remain productive for the longest supports increased profitability and will help you reach your future farming goals.

Most farms have a surplus of heifers compared to what they require for replacement, meaning rearing costs are higher than necessary. It also means there is the potential for increased cash flow by selling some of these animals.  

Selecting heifers to keep in your herd and what sire to breed these heifers to can have both long and short-term impacts on your farm;

Short Term

  • Improved Heifer Management, can result in reduced rearing costs, a better choice of replacements and reduced stocking density – decreasing disease levels. 
  • Use of sexed semen and advanced breeding techniques, giving more heifers to choose from, potential sales of surplus heifers increasing cash flow. Meaning replacement and expansion with the best heifers, coupled with fewer dairy bull calves and fewer potential calving issues. 
  • Using targeted beef semen, can improve profitability of calf sales, increase shed space and give a business diversification option. 

Longer Term

  • Targeted genetic gain to your plans, giving you the opportunity and accuracy to drive your future 
  • Additive cost-effective improvement in productivity and profitability via improvement in herd health as well as increased output
  • Allows rapid decision making, maximising speed of genetic progress compared to traditional breeding methods

Which Heifers?

Not all heifers are born the same, even from the same sire and dam it is possible to have over 1,152,921,504,606,850,000 different combinations. This is down to their DNA and which parts are passed on. Every cow has 22,000 genes, these are the packages of DNA that make up the building blocks of each cell in their body; in fact, 80% of these 22,000 genes are shared with humans.

It is the small differences in these genes, essentially copy errors, which will go on to determine how well a heifer will perform, including impact on productive capability, conformation, reproduction and even disease resilience.

So, which heifers will go on to produce the healthiest and most profitable cows for your farm, which heifers do you want to be the future of your herd and which sire do you want to put on them?

How do I select Heifers?

Knowing the chances of getting the offspring you require by pure luck is incredibly low, we need to tip the odds in your favour to ensure you are keeping the correct animals for you.

Selecting animals by eye gives you less than 1% chance of getting the animal you require for your farm. This is not going to give you any indication of which animals are going to be the best for you until they are well into milk and it can take up to 8 years before the data is reliable. By this point several further generations may have been chosen that are not the best animals for your farm.

A quarter of farms use Parent Average which gives some indication of the potential of the animal and its future offspring. The problem with this is that it assumes that both the sire and the dam give equal weighting to each trait that you require. This is not the case and so some animals will vary greatly from their supposed parent average, giving around 30% reliability.

Testing with CLARIFIDE can give you the accuracy to drive your future, one genomic test can give you a 70% prediction of her future potential and her ability to fulfil that potential from birth, meaning you wouldn’t have to wait for that at least 8 years of production data to come up with the same information.  Testing with CLARIFIDE gives you the opportunity to accurately select the heifers that will fit your farm and allows you to make the important decisions to get the return on investment you need from managing your heifers.

The sires you chose will most likely have been selected by genomic testing, why only give yourself half the opportunity to get to where you want to go?

For more information on CLARIFIDE and CLARIFIDE Plus visit www.clarifide.co.uk or via your NMR representative. Zoetis has partnered with veterinary practices to create a network of highly-trained vets. By choosing CLARIFIDE, you can access this expertise, making sure that you and your farm get the most benefit from CLARIFIDE testing.