Monitoring growth to enable expression of full genetic potential

Recording the growth rate of young stock provides valuable information. It is also an indirect method of monitoring the efficiency of feed conversion. Meeting growth rate targets will ensure maximum return on your investment.

There are many advantages to measuring the weights and heights of young stock:

  • To set goals for calf rearing and subsequent production goals
  • To plan a feeding strategy from birth and for every stage of the calf rearing programme
  • To achieve a high standard of performance as economically as possible
  • To maximise the high efficiency of gain from feeding the pre-ruminant animal
  • To identify under-performing and sick calves

Setting growth targets –

Growth targets will be defined by the breed of cattle, feeding and management systems available. Targets will then be achieved dependent on Target body weight growth percentagesthe type and amount of liquid feed, management capabilities and health status of the rearing unit.

The feeding management will have major influences on the growth targets. For example ad – lib and accelerated feeding systems will have higher growth rates when compared to a restricted feeding programme with limited intakes.

Health management will have a profound effect as poor health and immuno-compromised calves will have reduced growth rates.

Breeds will vary in birth weight therefore influencing growth rate from feeding rate as energy requirements will increase for larger calves.

Calves with higher genetic merit will have higher growth and production potential.

The sex of the calf will also influence the growth rates i.e. uncastrated bulls will grow 12% faster when compared with heifers.

The environment can have major effects on growth rates. Extreme temperatures can reduce growth rates either though heat stress or cold stress or when the weather fluctuates between the two. Energy requirements increase in cold conditions although this can be mitigated through elevated feeding programmes and the use of calf coats.

How to measure growth and development –

A reporting service offered by Wynnstay’s Calf Specialist Team, Wynngold Calf Metrics® relates to calves from birth to first calving. It records heifers’ weights then monitors and reports their performance. Wynnstay Calf Specialists regularly take weights and heights of groups of calves which are then plotted against farm specific targets.

Ideally live weight will be measured using weigh scales, however the consistent use of a weigh tape and wither stick will provide target indications. Any form of measurement device must be calibrated regularly and checked for accuracy.

The overall aim is to calve at 24 months or less and to maximise fertility, milk yield and productivity while minimising management time, feeding costs, bedding and space required.

Check lists –

  • Plan feeding, management and health policies for growth targets. Ensure rapid growth in early life as it is most efficient in the first 2 months of life.
  • Implement plans with high quality milk/milk replacer. Feeding sufficient energy and protein to support target growth rates.
  • Measure and monitor growth and condition regularly and consistently. This is to ensure your calves are on track and achieving targets.
  • Adjust plans to maintain growth targets.
  • Good weaning management will prevent any growth checks. Ensure calves are able to access a high-quality concentrate from 3 days of age and eating 2kg a head per day at the time of weaning. They should also have high quality short chopped straw to ensure good rumen development as well as clean, fresh water at all times. Adopting a gradual weaning protocol with a step-down process will increase feed intake whilst preventing growth checks.

Ref: Calf Rearing Guide – SJ Charlton

Mille Hendy
Calf Specialist
Follow Millie on Twitter @hendycalf1 or contact the Calf Team here.

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