Waiting longer to calve heifers could be costing Northern Ireland farmers thousands according to researchers, with a three-month delay on calving thought to knock more than £250 off margins.

Heifer rearing can account for up to 20% of a dairy farm's production costs, according to CAFRE dairy technologist Dr. Alastair Boyle.

Effect on yield

Dr. Boyle explained that heifer management should be seen as a "significant investment" and added that targeting 24-month calving was a key factor in maximising production efficiency.

He said: "Data from NI milk-recorded herds shows that heifers calving at 24 months have the highest lifetime yield compared to heifers calving at any other age.

"Also, for every one-month delay in calving beyond 24 months, on average a loss of 570L of lifetime milk is incurred.

Milk recording data shows that heifers in Northern Ireland are calving on average at 27 months, which represents an additional rearing cost of approximately £258, compared to calving at 24 months.

"By improving heifer-rearing practices this will also have a positive effect on the carbon footprint of your farm."

Better heifer management

The replacement heifer-rearing stop during the CAFRE open days will demonstrate how 24-month calving is being achieved at Greenmount, along with results from genomic analysis to identify heifers with the best genetics.

Farmers will also have an opportunity to enter a 'guess the weight' competition of maiden heifers, with the winner receiving one tonne of heifer-rearing nuts - courtesy of John Thompson and Sons.

Dairy Open Days

Performance of the herd against the KPIs will be discussed at the CAFRE Dairy Open Days on January 24 and 25, 2018.

The tours will last for two hours, starting from 10:30am and running every 20 minutes each day. The last tour will start at 1:30pm. A light lunch will be available after.

The six stops on the tour of the Greenmount Dairy Farm which will focus on:

  1. Benchmarking dairy herd performance;
  2. Replacement heifer rearing;
  3. Slurry utilisation and forage production;
  4. Dry cow management;
  5. Cow and calf management at calving;
  6. Feed efficiency and current herd diets.

Further details are available through the Dairy Open Day app which can be downloaded online.