Dairy farmers can help save costs on their farm by bringing down their age at first calving by measuring, monitoring and acting on data, visitors to a recent Women in Dairy meeting in Cheshire found out.

Karen Halton, of Halton Farms and the Dairy Industry Woman of the Year 2020, explained how a change in focus on their farm to calve 90% of heifers at 22 months had resulted in a saving of £270 per heifer reared.

Two years ago, the farm was averaging heifers calving at 22 months. But when Karen and her vet, Mark Hickinson, of Sandstone Vets, looked at the range, some were calving at 20 months and others at 27 months.

This changed how the farm used data, focusing on ranges rather than averages. Karen said: "Using averages didn't feel like truthful data. So, over the last 18 months, we have backed off a bit and now we have nothing calving outside of 24 months. We now aim to have 90% of heifers calving by 22 months."

Kath Aplin, from WID national sponsor, Boehringer, said that it was important that farmers start by setting targets that are achievable and relevant to their individual farm situation.

“Set yourself a timeframe in which to achieve these targets. You’ve got to start with your cow’s mature body weight and work backwards. You’ve then got to do something with that data,” she advised.

To work out youngstock targets, you can:

• Work out the mature bodyweight of your cows;

• Calculate 90% of the mature bodyweight, which is the target weight to calve cows down at 24 months;

• Calculate 60% of the mature bodyweight, which is the target weight for serving cows at 13 months;

• Calculate the target growth rate from birth to service. You can do this by deducting the birth weight from the service weight and dividing it by 400 days;

• Calculate weaning weight

Bulling at the right weight and calving down at 22 months had saved Halton Farms money, with each heifer going through the system costing £270 less.

This saving came from improved maiden heifer fertility and on average, only 1.2 straws of semen were needed, compared to 2.2 before. Also included was reducing the number of days to first calving.

Heifer milk yield was maintained at 10,500-litres in a 305-day lactation and the first lactation fertility improved to a 100-day in calf rate of 100%. First lactation culling rate for fertility was also reduced – three years ago it was 10-15%, now it's a 0%.

To achieve such targets, attention to detail by every staff member was paramount and Karen's philosophy was that if she was run over by a bus tomorrow, the calves would never know. Every team member was able to perform the job correctly.

Calf rearing was crucial to this, though and Karen said:" You've got a six-week window to grow calves and you can't get that back. This means there is no compromise for that six weeks."