It’s Youngstock Month: Growing Great Heifers

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