Calf and heifer feed management Calf and heifer feed management

Heifer management towards first breeding

It is crucial that farmers keep a close eye on the growth of heifers from weaning up to the first breeding age of 13 months. The ability to meet body weight checkpoints along the way can have a significant impact on the farm’s cost structure. Our own LifeStart research clarifies the impact to help farmers manage it.

A balanced heifer diet supports proper growth

Most farmers feed according to a well-designed plan from the first days of a heifer’s life up to the first few weeks after weaning and carefully monitor the results. However, once the calf reaches five months of age and successfully transitions to a diet including forage, there is a tendency to feed them what is readily available, sometimes without a clear view on the calf’s needs, and stop monitoring growth and development in a systematic way. But maintaining a balanced diet – particularly containing enough crude protein – after reaching the age of 9-10 months is essential to ensuring sufficient growth without excessive fat deposition.

Check your heifer growth checkpoint

In the period from weaning to breeding, there is often not enough attention paid to setting and checking growth targets for calves. Each goal for age at first calving (AFC) has its own measures. See the table on the left for an overview of checkpoints for a cow herd with a mature bodyweight (MBW) of 700 kg, a normal bodyweight for Holstein Frisian cows.

The table shows the checkpoints for an Age at First Calving at 23 months, for other breeds of cows with different mature bodyweights.

Our offering for heifer management towards first breeding and calving

LifeStart programme

LifeStart programme

Dairy heifer management has a big influence on farm economics. The age at first calving is an important parameter that influences average lifetime daily production. Increased growth rates achieved using the LifeStart programme lead to a lower age at first calving. This has the obvious benefit of bringing forward the start of first lactation, increasing the potential production of the dairy heifer whilst lowering the overall cost of production.

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LifeStart science has proved that intensive feeding in its early life makes a heifer ready for breeding – at a good weight and fertility – at 13 months of age.
Dr. Leonel Leal, Team Lead Calf Research at Trouw Nutrition

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it true that calves should be set out to pasture at the age of 7-8 months in order to let them move around and not grow fat?

Exercise is important to develop leg and joint strength, so pasture is a good solution. Take a good look at the availability of grass over time, which the heifers need to reach the correct bodyweight for first insemination at 13 months.

My calves are very good at drinking milk, but not in consuming calf starter. What can I do?

First, check the availability of water. Calves need four to five litres of water per kilogram dry feed. So, if the supply of water is limited or failing, consumption of calf starter will be low. Our advice: good quality water should be freely available.

Go to our LifeStart platform Go to our LifeStart platform

Would you like more information about feeding recommendations at different stages?

You will find more information and research on the NutriOpt platform, which clarifies the choices farmers have to make to formulate the right diets for intensive calf rearing.

Go to NutriOpt