Measure to Monitor

Performance of calves can only be monitored if the time is taken to measure, directly or indirectly.

MEASURE TO MONITORDirect measures:
These are done “at the time”, for example measuring heights/weights using a weightape (or electronic scales if available) at a point in time.

Indirect measures:
Measure To Monitor
Using retrospective data such as service and calving age/weights to determine performance.

Reduced calving age from one year to the next may suggest improved calf and heifer rearing; however it is months later when we can make these assumptions. If a heifer is first served at 18 months old, it can be assumed that there are improvements to be made to allow future heifers to reach service weight earlier. But it is difficult at this point to then determine at which stage of rearing that this heifer didn’t meet her targets and fell behind.

The more accurate, and instant, measure of progress is to weigh calves and heifers at stages through their rearing process to continuously assess whether they are on track to hitting the targeted 800g daily live weight gain, only through the data collected can you then decide if changes need to be made to your current rearing protocols.

For example, if a dairy heifer has not doubled her birth weight by weaning it is highlighted there and then allowing for decisions to be made as to whether to push her on or remove her from the herd.

Bovine Refractometer
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If it appears that a number of animals (as opposed to an individual) are not reaching their weaning target, it may be worth focusing on the following:

  • Does the farm have a robust colostrum management protocol?
  • Are all team members sticking to it? Regular monitoring of bloods can be hugely beneficial as a way of monitoring how successful the colostrum protocol is being implemented
  • Are calves getting sufficient milk solids to allow them to reach the growth rates required?
  • Is milk delivered consistently each day? (time of day, volume, concentration, temperature)
  • Is there a standardised weaning protocol? Is this appropriate?
  • What are the levels of disease on the farm? Can they be reduced further?

If weights are looking great at weaning but seem to drop off in the following months, consider:

  • Were the calves eating 2-2.5kg/day of a good quality starter nut at weaning?
  • Have they stayed in the same, comfortable social groups or been mixed with others?
  • Have you changed the diet much?
  • Was access to fresh clean water available at all times?
  • Have all weaning stress factors been reduced as much as possible?

MEASURE TO MONITORCarrying animals that are continually below their targets can be a real cost to any business, and breeding replacements from heifers that have always struggled can get farms into a vicious cycle of producing calves that may be prone to under-performing! So, measuring not only assists in highlighting the weak areas for farms to focus on, but can also help in breeding decisions – breed replacements from the best (the girls that have always been on track)!

Setting long term targets is important; research has repeatedly found calving heifers between 22-24 months enables them to be the most healthy and profitable animals.

MEASURE TO MONITORIn summary, setting targets and knowing what your long term goals are is key to success. Monitoring progress of the animals is the only way to know if targets are being met and allow for problem solving if not.

The Wynnstay Calf Team are happy to assist in developing farm specific protocols for various stages through calf and heifer rearing, we can also help you monitor the growth rates through the WYNNGOLD™ Initiative and anonymously benchmark your results with other farms.

Setting long term targets is important; research has repeatedly found calving heifers between 22-24 months enables them to be the most healthy and profitable animals.

Sammy Howorth
Calf Specialist – Lancashire and Cumbria
m: 07810 444948
e: sammy.howorth@wynnstay.co.uk

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