Dairy farming

Why invest in your heifers

The dairy market

There has been plenty of noise about the increase in food production that is required to feed an ever-expanding population, the competition for resources and the need to protect the environment. This has all lead to the drive towards improved efficiency. So where does this leave the dairy market? In essence, dairy farming needs to be at the forefront of adopting new technologies and strategies to meet this challenge, if you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always got, goes the saying.

The world dairy market is growing at about 2.5% per year, and dairy consumption is predicted to rise by 20kg/head in the next 10 years. This, coupled with some of the biggest markets such as China and Russia being around 80% self-sufficient, means that the outlook for dairy is positive. However, efficiency on farm is vital to ensuring success and profitability.

Do you know your costs?

What are the big costs on your farm? Classically the costs were known as the 3 ‘Fs’, of feed, fertiliser and fuel; fertiliser and fuel fall under grassland management. Vet and medicine spend is 3% of a farms outgoing, meaning this is not where realistic savings can be made. Feed and grassland management are the biggest two costs on a dairy farm, the third biggest cost is the replacements. This is where attention to detail can reap rewards on a farm’s balance sheet.

On average it will take well into second lactation for a heifer to pay back her rearing costs and requires around 12,000l of milk to be produced. Obviously, your replacement rate has a huge impact on your requirements for heifers, but are you being efficient in how many and which heifers you are keeping? On UK farms the mean cost of rearing a heifer is £18191, by concentrating efforts on this area of the farm, some farms have managed to reduce this to just over £1000. If a farm is rearing 50 heifers a year this alone is saving of around £37,000. So, what are these costs?

The highest costs per day are accumulated from birth to weaning because of the price of replacement milk powder and any medical interventions pre-weaning. However, the costliest time overall is between weaning and getting in calf. Whilst this period has a lower cost per day, it is far longer and equates to around 40% of the actual spend. Getting heifers in calf as soon as possible reduces this cost dramatically.

The next place to look for possible savings is your heifer inventory; how many heifers do you need and how many do you have? The number of heifers you require is your replacement rate, calculate this using your culling rate plus expansion plans and a contingency number to ensure you are not caught short. Most farms hoard heifers, rearing dramatically more than they need to.

If your farm does have more heifers than required, then what are the options?

  • Can some heifers be sold? Reducing rearing costs and giving you potential for increased cash flow 
  • Can more beef semen be used? Reducing the number of dairy replacements, reducing your rearing costs and increasing the value of your calf sales. Beef calves are worth around £150 a head more before 6 weeks old (£300 more at a year of age).

What does your future hold?

The fact remains heifers are the future of your herd, when they enter the milking parlour we need them to be as productive and healthy as possible, for as long as possible. So, which ones do you invest in and which ones do you select to ensure the future of your herd?

Reliably predicting the future potential and the ability to reach the potential healthily at a few days of age can give you a massive advantage. You can then ensure your heifers fit with your replacement strategy, giving you the ability to breed and invest in your best. 

Investing in one simple test for each heifer can lead to a life-time of return for you and your herd. CLARIFIDE testing gives you the key to unlocking profitable heifer management, allowing you to understand which heifers fit with your future farming goals. Helping you to make the correct breeding decisions, also, allowing for sale of those less suited to your strategy, giving you improved cash flow. 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..

1. Boulton et al 2015, The Management and Associated Costs of Rearing Heifers on UK Dairy Farms from Weaning to Conception. Open Journal of Animal Sciences, 2015, 5, 294-208.