Inspire Cattle Solutions


Why is it so important to calve at 22-25 months?

Calving at 24 months has great benefits

The ultimate test of heifer management is to look at their average Age at First Calving (AFC). If this lies between 22-25 months there are some great benefits for your milking herd:

  • Increased Yield over whole lifetime
  • Better Udder Health in the First Lactation
  • Decreased culling risk in the first lactation
  • Increased likelihood to calve for a second time
  • Improved economics compared to AFC of <22 and >26 months

What if you don’t achieve this?

It has been published that the average AFC for the UK is 29 months (median 28 months), ranging up to 42 months! This is not a great statistic! Calving beyond 25 months of age is associated with lost future milk and greater risk of culling or not even reaching a second lactation. So many herds in the world are not achieving their potential by allowing heifers to grow more slowly.

How to achieve AFC targets

It’s all down to great management from the start!

It’s all in the raising! Good colostrum management, ad lib or >3 X daily feeding of milk to pre-wean calves, achieving 0.9kg/day pre-insemination growth and 0.5kg/day post-insemination growth are the keys to reaching first calving at 24 months. Any disease, parasites, insemination procedures, poor feed quality or poor feed access will affect this key performance indicator. It is up to us as advisors to work with farmers to minimise these risks and help them to reach their absolute potential! Together, we can do great things!


Where is the Evidence?

  • Eastham N.T., Coates A., Cripps P., Richardson H., Smith R., Oikonomou G.,. 2018. “Associations between age at first calving and subsequent lactation performance in UK Holstein and Holstein-Friesian dairy cows.” PlosOne 13 (6): e0197764 2.
  • Sherwin V.E., Hudson C.D., Henderson A., Green M.J.,. 2016. “The association between age at first calving and survival of first lactation heifers within dairy herds.” Animal 10 (11): 1877-1882 3.
  • Adamczyk K., Makulska J., Jagusiak W., Węglarz A.,. 2017. “Associations between strain, herd size, age at first calving, culling reason and lifetime performance characteristics in Holstein-Friesian cows.” Animal 11 (2): 327-334 4.
  • Hossein-Zadeh G. 2011. “Estimation of genetic and phenotypic relationships between age at first calving and productive performance in Iranian Holsteins.” Tropical Animal Health and Production 43 (5): 967-973 5.
  • Pirlo G., Miglior F., Speroni M.,. 2011. “Effect of age at first calving on production traits and on difference between milk yield returns and rearing costs in Italian Holsteins.” Journal of Dairy Science 83 (3): 603-608 6.
  • Elahi Torshizi M. 2016. “Effects of season and age at first calving on genetic and phenotypic characteristics of lactation curve parameters in Holstein cows.” Journal of Animal Science and Technology 58 (8): doi: 10.1186/s40781-016-0089-1 –

What are my Growth Goals?

Heifers are the Future

Heifers are the future of the herd: Their genetic potential and efficiency should be greater than the current cows so let’s raise them wisely! 20% of the costs on a dairy are from raising heifers and 50% of those costs are in feed: THIS IS NOT LOST MONEY: It’s your investment for the future! How can you make the most of growth rates?


They must EAT, EAT, EAT to reach 66% of adult weight at 13-15 months for insemination and 85% of adult weight at first calving. Working back, a 650kg Holstein cow needs to be around 550kg at calving (730 days old) and 410kg at insemination (445 days old). If they wean at 110kg at 100 days old, this means a target gain of (410-110)/345=0.87kg/day to insemination and (550-410)/(730-445)=0.5kg/day post-insemination to calving.

The VALUE of reaching these targets lies in improved YIELDS over a lifetime and decreased risk of culling in their fist lactation (Eastham, Sherwin, Adamczyk, Pirlo)

HOW do you achieve that?

heifer outdoor
Maximise intakes and keep them comfortable

Of course, FEED is important! Make sure they have enough ACCESS to feed together and make sure the feed is NOT SORTABLE: Fibre needs to be chopped short for heifers not to sort and leave it. Clean and accessible water is also important to maximise intakes. PROTEIN is very important and QUALITY counts, therefore choose a pellet mix aimed at 18% Crude Protein of good quality. 16% CP is acceptable but 18% have better growth rates (Broadwater). 2.4 to 2.6MCal/kg Metabolisable Energy (10.1 to 10.7MJ/kg) is also recommended. Comfortable, clean and spacious accommodation is also important for maximum rumination and lying times.

What you NEVER do is feed poor quality or even rotten silage to heifers because they are seen as an unnecessary cost. Look after them at this stage and they will reward you later!


Where is the Evidence?

  • Eastham N.T., Coates A., Cripps P., Richardson H., Smith R., Oikonomou G.,. 2018. “Associations between age at first calving and subsequent lactation performance in UK Holstein and Holstein-Friesian dairy cows.” PlosOne 13 (6): e0197764 2.
  • Sherwin V.E., Hudson C.D., Henderson A., Green M.J.,. 2016. “The association between age at first calving and survival of first lactation heifers within dairy herds.” Animal 10 (11): 1877-1882 3.
  • Adamczyk K., Makulska J., Jagusiak W., Węglarz A.,. 2017. “Associations between strain, herd size, age at first calving, culling reason and lifetime performance characteristics in Holstein-Friesian cows.” Animal 11 (2): 327-334 4.
  • Pirlo G., Miglior F., Speroni M.,. 2011. “Effect of age at first calving on production traits and on difference between milk yield returns and rearing costs in Italian Holsteins.” Journal of Dairy Science 83 (3): 603-608
  • Broadwater N., Chester-Jones H.,. 2011. eXtension: Feeding Strategies for Post-Weaned Dairy Heifers, 2 to 6 months of age. Accessed January 29, 2019

Increasing Pellet Intake from 0.1kg to 0.9kg/day can indicate when to wean

Most dairy farmers choose to wean their calves at a specific age, because they have always done this. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS! When calves are weaned is determined by whether or not the rumen has developed enough to cope with solid food. So this is an economic decision based on price of milk replacer, milk and concentrate pellets, which all vary from month to month.


Rumen Development

When calves are born, their guts act a bit like humans BUT after 3 weeks on 0.1-0.5kg/day calf pellets1, they are developing their ruminant-like, 4-stomached gut. It is the presence of solid feeds such as pellets, grasses and dry matter (straw) that influences this development

Rumen development from Dairy eXtension USDA

The calf will alter intake depending on when it is weaned: so work out the cost of this vs. the cost of milk you have available and alter accordingly1

From Dairy eXtension USDA


As long as pellets and forage/fibre are given to a calf, its rumen will develop over the space of 3 weeks or so in order to cope with weaning to solid food. Management afterwards on starter intake amounts will allow calves to “catch up” depending on farm strategy. So weaning should really consider the costs of milk replacer, milk, pellets and forage from month to month.


Where is the Evidence?

Calves need colostrum first!

All calves need to get colostrum: it’s definitely the best meal of their lives! However, after that, most calves are separated from their mothers within 24 hours and may be reared in small groups together. The question is: does this affect their growth performance or behaviour?


Effects on Growth

  • If calves are left to suckle their mothers, the cow produces up to 14kg LESS milk per day to weaning. This is economically unsustainable in most dairies!
  • Calves staying with their mothers for up to 6 weeks, gained weight at 3 times the rate of separated calves up to 6 weeks (Roth B.A. 2009)
  • Calves on automatic feeders gain more weight than suckled calves after weaning (0.4kg/d) (Roth B.A. 2009)
  • Calves on automatic feeders eat 16-19kg more concentrates in total to weaning than suckled calves (Roth B.A. 2009). This however, is far less money invested than that lost in milk from mothers.
  • Calves kept with their mothers gain 25-28kg more than automatic-fed calves to weaning (Roth B.A. 2009) (Kisak P. 2011)
  • There is no evidence of any difference between group or individually housed calves or separated/suckled calves on disease rates (Costa J.H.C. 2016) (Grondahl A.M. 2007) (Kisak P. 2011) (Lee H.J. 2009)

Effects on Behaviour

Behaviour of mothers and calves is more subjective to measure and evidence reflects this. People tend to measure vocalisation of calf and mother, play behaviour, head movements and other signs that they think might be seeking behaviour for either mother or calf.

  • The calf to mother bond increases with increasing time to weaning and mothers/calves bond to their specific parents/offspring.
  • These bonding behaviours however, appear to be present even after 6 hours from birth in the mother but not so much in the calves (Stehulova I. 2017), so separation from this time onwards would appear to have a behavioural effect on the animals concerned.
  • Calves and mothers appear to seek each other, but this behaviour is expressed less with the mother, even after 3 hours of separation.
  • Separation appears to have effects on calves but only after several days of contact, so separation early would appear to be beneficial if this is your management strategy


From an economic point of view, separation at birth has better growth weights in calves after weaning and has lower Johnes’ disease rates (Windsor, 2010). It also gives up to 14kg more milk per day from the mother. This makes separation at birth an essential decision on most dairies. From a behavioural point of view, there are beneficial effects of staying with mothers in terms of bonding but separation at birth does not appear to have effects on the calves and mothers seem to have less impact after even 3 hours of separation.

Where is the Evidence?

  • Roth B.A., Barth K., Gygax L., Hillmann E. 2009. “Influence of artificial vs mother-bonded rearing on sucking behaviour, health and weight gain in calves.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 119: 143-150
  • Kisak P., Broucek J., Uhrinkat M., Hanus A. 2011. “Effect of weaning calves from mother at different ages on their growth and milk yield of mothers.” Czech Journal of Animal Science 56 (6): 261-268
  • Grondahl A.M., Skancke E.M., Mejdell C.M., Jansen J.H. 2007. “Growth rate, health and welfare in a dairy herd with natural suckling until 6-8 weeks of age: a case report.” Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica 49 (1): 16
  • Jensen M.B. 2011. “The early beaviour of cow and calf in an individual calving pen.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 134 (3-4): 92-99
  • Lee H.J., Khan M.A., Lee W.S., Yang S.H., Kim S.B., Kee K.S., Ha J.K., Choi J.K. 2009. “Influence of equalizing the gross composition of milk replacer to that of whole milk on the performance of Holstein calves.” Journal of Animal Science 87 (3): 1129-1137
  • Stehulova I., Valnickova B., Sarova R., Spinka M. 2017. “Weaning reactions in beef cattle are adaptively adjusted to the state of the cow and the calf.” Journal of Animal Science 95 (3): 1023-1029
  • Windsor P.A., Whittington R.J. 2010. “Evidence for age susceptibility of cattle to Johnes’ Disease.” The Veterinary Journal 184 (1): 37-44

Should you invest in Pasteurisation?

Pasteurisation of milk improves health and weight gains

The quick answer: YES!

The evidence is overwhelming to support the feeding of pasteurised milk to calves. They have been proven to grow faster, disease risk is lower and mortality rates reduce!

Preweaning health and performance is significantly better in calves fed pasteurized waste milk as compared to calves fed a traditional 20:20 milk replacer feeding program:

  1. They had fewer sick days, lower mortality rates, lower costs for health expenditures, higher weights at weaning, and a higher gross margin ($8.41/calf) per calf
  2. Their Average daily Weight Gain (ADG) was significantly greater in calves fed pasteurized waste milk (0.46kg/day)
  3. Preweaning mortality rates were 83% lower for calves fed pasteurized waste milk (2.3%) than for calves fed milk replacer (11.6%).

Losing a heifer calf means losing genetic improvement in the herd, the investment of feeding a pregnant cow and the investment of time in birthing and rearing. Invest in a pasteurisation machine and it will definitely pay off!


Where is the Evidence?

Try reading more on:

  1. S., Godden. 2008. “A review of issues surrounding the feeding of waste milk and pasteurization of waste milk and colstrum.” University of Minnesota: Continuing Veterinary Education. Accessed January 24, 2019.

Should I Recommend Whole Milk or Milk Replacer for calves?

Growth of 0.75-0.95kgday is achievable with milk or replacer

Whole milk can provide the ideal mix of proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals that the calf needs, as long as the cows are fed appropriately and have enough access to feed. Replacer can have all of the right ingredients added to it BUT management of it is the key:

  1. There is potential to mix incorrectly
  2. It may not have all of the minerals and vitamins required, depending on manufacturer
  3. There is potential for human or machine error in making the mixture correctly
  4. It has been shown that calves grow up to 0.48kg/day more up to weaning from whole milk, even when compared with an exact fat, protein and intake match on replacer (1)

Ultimately, the answer to this totally depends on economics: growth is improved on whole milk but 0.75-0.95kg/day growth targets can also be met on milk replacer. The question is: what is more economic at the time? Lost milk from the dairy, or replacer?

Is waste milk OK?

Waste, or dumped milk can be an attractive option to feed to calves: it often does have the right nutrients and even if acidified, can provide target growth weights to weaning. It has however, been shown that milk with known antibiotic resistance can be passed to calves fed on this milk (2).

Really, the ideal recommendation would be to not feed dumped milk, but practically, it is economically attractive and there is little evidence to show worse disease rates, growth rates or adverse effects on weaning targets (2)

Pasteurisation would be highly recommended (see my next post)

Where is the Evidence?

  1. Lee H.J., Khan M.A., Lee W.S., Yang S.H., Kim S.B., Kee K.S., Ha J.K., Choi J.K. 2009. “Influence of equalizing the gross composition of milk replacer to that of whole milk on the performance of Holstein calves.” Journal of Animal Science 87 (3): 1129-1137
  2. 1.S., Godden. 2008. “A review of issues surrounding the feeding of waste milk and pasteurization of waste milk and colostrum.” University of Minnesota: Continuing Veterinary Education. Accessed January 24, 2019.

How Much Colostrum is Right?

According to scientific review, 10-12% of the calf’s bodyweight is the ideal volume of colostrum to give to a calf. Most Holstein calves are born between 35 and 40kg, so 3.5 Litres would be recommended as the first feed. Take milk from the mother and administer by tube and bag to ensure the full amount is given.

Learn MORE Now!

When is the ideal time to give it?

Colostrum is the BEST start: Invest Time and Get It Right!

The highest amount of immune transfer to the calf is found when you follow this protocol:

  1. Give 10-12% bodyweight of the calf from the mother AT BIRTH or within 1 hour of birth
  2. Give a second amount of the same volume within 6-12 hours of birth
  3. At least another feed within 24 hours
  4. Continue to feed colostrum for the first 4 days: You have to withdraw this milk anyway in the EU (you may lose 2 days in the US/Canada)


Colostrum contains antibodies, which are absorbed by the calf for the first 12-24 hours. It ALSO contains immune cells, cytokines and other proteins that protect and prepare the calf’s immune system in its gut. This can help to set up the maximum protection against pathogen attack and has been shown to reduce diarrhoea and improve growth weights to weaning age.

Where’s the Evidence?

Paste these references into Google Scholar and read the articles to find out more:

  1. Jaster E.H., (2005), “Evaluation of quality, quantity and timing of colostrum feeding on immunoglobulin G1 absorption in Jersey calves”, Journal of Dairy Science, 88, 296-302
  2. Godden S., (2008), “Colostrum Management for Dairy Calves.” Veterinary Clinics of North America Food Animal Practice 24: 19-39
  3. Atkinson D.J., von Keyserlingk M.A.G., Weary D.M., (2017), “Benchmarking passive transfer of immunity and growth in dairy calves”, Journal of Dairy Science, 100, 3773-3782

Cows in metabolic stress have calves with lower body weights at birth and the calves’ immunity is negatively affected.

A recent article has shown that cows with higher fat mobilisation in late pregnancy or greater oxidative stress (an indicator of immune stress) produce lower body weight calves. Also, immune cells taken from these calves in early life show less ability to react to microbial attack.

How was this discovered?

Twin calvings can create metabolic stress

In this experiment by a group from Australia & Michigan State, 12 multiparous Holstein-Friesian cows were chosen with either normal, or stress-indicated markers in blood (non-esterified fatty acids, haptoglobin or oxidative stress indicators – OSi). Their calves were weighed at birth and at 4 weeks old and blood was taken from the calves at 7, 14, 20 and 29 days of age. The blood was measured for signs of how the immune cells responded to lipopolysaccharide (LPS) stimulation by the production of tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha). LPS is a molecule found in the outer coat of Gram negative bacteria, such as E. coli and TNFalpha is a substance produced by the immune system when it is under attack from microbes (an acute phase protein).

What Happened?

Cows with high NEFA and OSi had calves which were avg. 2 to 3kg LESS from calving to 4 weeks of age.

Calves from cows with high NEFA and OSi had cells with less ability to react to TNFalpha when stimulated by LPS.

What does this mean for Dairy Health?

This research implies that cows that are managed to have less metabolic and immune stress (less disease and less energy deficits) in their dry period can not only better protect themselves in early lactation but also have beneficial effects on the health of their calves.

This research comes from the Journal of Dairy Science, 2018, Vol 101(7), p6568-6580

A new costing model has been published that can estimate when a prevention strategy can pay back for reducing lameness incidence. For infectious disease such as Digital Dermatitis (DD),  incidence rates generally need to be 40% or over and strategies need to reduce incidence by over 20% in order to be profitable. For non-infectious diseases such as Sole Ulcer (SU) or White Line Disease (WLD), the return rate is higher. Incidence rates can be as low as 20% and effectiveness to reduce incidence at 20% in order to pay off investment. 

Digital Dermatitis courtesy of

A group from the University of Kentucky produced the model, where consultants can see the incidence rate of lameness type from the dairy, estimate the effectiveness of their prevention strategy (e.g. rubber flooring for reducing SU  at a Risk Ratio of 0.45) and see a value in Dollars of estimated returns. This is an extremely useful and up to date model for estimating the value of advice on lameness interventions. 

How was the model calculated?

White Line Disease courtesy of

The model was based on setting incomes at current prices (milk sales, calf sales and slaughter sales) and outgoings (feed, breeding, disposal and vet costs). Then the model was calculated at different incidence rates (set at 20, 40 and 60% for DD and 5, 15 and 25% for SU and WLD) and varying Risk Ratios of effectiveness of strategy. There is little published evidence on specific Risk Ratios for each prevention strategy, so the model was calculated in order for the reader to use their own value on incidence reduction from their chosen intervention. 

For DD, the incidence rates needed to be quite high (40% or over) before a profit could be made at an effectiveness of 20% or above. For SU and WLD, profits can be made at a lower level of investment, generally, from >20% incidence and >20% effectiveness. Of course, this is variable depending on prevention intervention cost and parity of cow but these figures come from typical current interventions and dairy data incidence rates. 

This adds a great tool to the toolbox of a Dairy Consultant anywhere on the Globe. Read the full article in Journal of Dairy Science, 2018 Author: Dolecheck. Link opens in a new tab. 

Income on Farm increased by £9,000 per annum

Mastitis and Ketosis Risk decreased by 25% and 80% respectively

Income from Vet Advice increased by £3,000 each 3 months

How was this achieved?

Visits to farms showed the current management on the dairy farms. Vets monitored the disease levels from the farm and the practice. Inspire Cattle Solutions provided an Evidence Based Report supporting the costs of mastitis and ketosis/case and showed the best scientific interventions to reduce the risk of these diseases. Examples were evidence supporting the use of dips and forestripping milk against mastitis outcomes and the use of body condition scoring and BHBA testing to predict ketosis in cows. 

Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine is the practice of searching available scientific literature supporting a clinical question (such as “What is the average cost of a case of mastitis?” or What is the evidence supporting the use of pre-dips to reduce new cases of mastitis?”) and then applying this in practice.

Well researched literature can help to guide opinions

Evidence-based interventions could then be put in place and data recorded after 3 months to show the differences seen on farm.

Visits to the farms showed that mastitis and the numbers of sick cows after calving were at unacceptable levels, at 12% new cases of mastitis/year and 8% Displaced Abomasum (DA)/year. 

Farmers were spending too much of their time caring for sick cows rather than concentrating on health and productivity. The vet practice was believing the herd dairy data recorded by the farmer rather than actually measuring mastitis tube sales or monitoring BHBA levels in fresh cows. 

Altering Fibre length and content in dry cows and increasing feed space access reduced ketosis to <10% for the next 3 months and inctroducing pre-dip and clean wiping techniques reduced mastitis to 8%. 

The vet practice achieved more consultation opportunities from the feedback of their customers and they could rest in the knowledge that their interventions wwere supported by the latest scientific research.

Inspire Cattle Solutions can show great Value from Consultancy

All of this was possible because the data was able to capture real situations on farm and tie this to best practices elsewhere in the Globe.

Evidence-based veterinary medicine can create Opportunities for producers, practices and consultancy!

Processors, Retailers and Co-ops buy milk from Dairy Farms: many have quality assurance schemes that are intended to support farmers, consumers and their own businesses. The reality is that pleasing everyone is often very challenging. Farmers need a profitable business and aim for optimum health and productivity from the animals in their care. Buyers need to ensure milk quality and a consistent supply  and the consumers’ opinions are always important to everyone. However, the latter is often a subject that is frequently changeable. So building strategies that cover everyone’s needs requires skilled and experienced advisor teams, with veterinary science at its heart. 

Higher margins and healthy animals drive sustainable farms


The beginning of this value chain lies with the cow herself: She must be in a consistent environment: changes in feed, routine and daily management have a great impact on health and performance. When designing assurance schemes, expert veterinary advice is critical to ensure a low disease risk while optimising reproductive potential. Too often, policies can focus on parameters that have good intentions but lack enough delivery on profitability. Increasing longevity of cows in the herd is a good example of this: a policy that pushes culling rates down can risk the delay of better genetics entering the herd and increase disease risks unless understanding the value of heifers’ lactation persistency is brought into the discussion. 

Excellent quality and consistent supply are goals of milk buyers


Lowering disease risks, Optimising reproduction and dealing with heat stressors can greatly increase the consistency of supply for the milk buyer. In the same way, milk quality is also linked to these factors, emphasising the importance of veterinary advice. Understanding the marginal milk value (the value of milk beyond her maintenance and feed costs) can help conversations between milk buyers and producers: especially when dealing with the uncomfortable news of reducing milk prices. Good veterinary consultancy can help to provide answers to challenging times.

Phone screen
Consumer opinion drives buying choices

Media and Consumers

Consumers and social media can drive policies and short term management wants from retailers and co-ops. Antimicrobial reduction, organic milk, “factory farming” and other issues all need quick and scientifically structured replies from the suppliers. Once again, veterinary scientific advice from an expert can make or break a brand or company name in this fickle media world. 

Fortunately, INSPIRE CATTLE SOLUTIONS have extensive experience in all of these areas and have produced visible value from each of these steps in terms of milk volume and profitability in supply.

Contact us to prepare for 2019 and SUCCESS

Inspire Cattle Solutions is Passionate about Efficiency and Cow Well-being

What is the greatest animal management challenge your dairies face in 2019? Whatever the answer, we can work with you to find a solution. We can design a project customised entirely to your needs and ensure that the results are accountable and deliverable in YOUR timescale. We try hard to link any changes that we advise to show value back to your business. Efficiency goals usually focus on profits as well as time saved for personnel or animal time budgets. We have the experience and capability to do this anywhere on the Globe.

As an example: a major retailer was wanting to market milk products to its customers by reassuring them that the cows supplying them were “happy” (in this case and in their opinion, this meant lower disease risks on farm). Representative farms of the suppliers were visited and aspects of management were studied in terms of disease risk. Stall size, barn design, time budgets, feed and water availability, heat abatement, and parlour routines were all studied. Dairy data from the farms was analysed and it appeared that subclinical ketosis was higher than average. On closer inspection, dry cow fibre ration and feed space had opportunities to be optimised on most sites. Within less than a month of changes being made, ketosis was reduced by 70% on average and yields were up 2kg/day/animal on farm in the fresh groups. Incomes for producers were increased by at least $10k/year and the retailer could back up their claim of lower disease risks. The farmers realised that they spent less time treating sick cows as well, freeing up more time to dedicate to what they like to do well: looking after healthy animals.

When you are planning your 2019 management goals, think of Inspire Cattle Solutions: we want to help you to bring healthier cows’ milk to YOUR customers