DAIRY farmers in the UK are being urged to regularly weigh their growing calves to improve their chance at life, according to AHDB’s dairy techincal manager, Andy Dodd, speaking at the recent ‘Calf to calving’ event held at Glasgoforest, Aberdeen. 

Mr Dodd highlighted that calf survival is still a big challenge as 14% of tagged heifers fail to reach their first calving, and this is something that needs to change. 

“We know that good regular weight gain should ensure heifers reach their calving weight by 24 months which in turn is incredibly good for their health, as well as the farm’s bottom line. 

“However, the average calving age is closer to 28 months and we still see many heifers not calving until they are far older which decreases milk yield and lifespan, and increases the likelihood of calving assistance.

“Things are getting better, but slowly; we need to speed things up,” he added. 

Royal Veterinary College research funded in conjunction with AHDB Dairy shows that reducing calving age from 26 to 24 months saves 16% in rearing costs, while heifers which don’t calf until 32 months cost an extra 41%.

For Andy the answer is clear; regular weighing to ensure young stock are gaining at the right rate for their farm and breed.

“Different farms and breeds will grow at different rates, the key is to weigh calves at birth, and then establish what their growth rate needs to be to achieve a 90% mature weight at 24 months,” pointed out Mr Dodd. 

“The main thing with weighing is that it is regular, and that electronic scales are used. It is really hard to judge an animal’s weight simply by looking, we often ask farmers to do this at our meetings and seven different farmers will give seven different answers.” 

AHDB Dairy advises that calves should be weighed as often as possible. As well as at birth, calves should be weighed at three weeks (gaining 0.5kg a day), when they are weaned (with birth weight doubled by 56 days), one week post weaning, at six months (27% mature weight), 12 months (50% mature weight), 14-15 months (breeding – 60% mature weight), 18 months, and at calving (90% mature weight).

Andy said: “Weighing is the best way to diagnose a problem in a rearing system. If heifers are struggling and not calving at 24 months, weighing can locate the issue. 

“A group can be weighed when something changes in the system and then weighed again seven to 10 days later which allows farmers to adapt and reduce the effect of weight gain stalling or even weight loss. 

“Weighing 10% of animals will give a good indication if whole group weighing is not an option, although ideally all animals should be weighed.”