More farmers weighing their heifers

9 February 2018

The number of heifers weighed by farmers each year has increased 25 percent over the last five years, according to data from LIC.

That’s a jump from 436,000 to 545,000 heifers now weighed each year.

This is great news for the industry and I believe shows farmers now really understand the value of weighing heifers. Achieving heifer liveweight targets has been shown to improve milk production and increase lifetime productivity. So take the time to make weighing a priority, as it’s a real investment in your herd.

I hope dairy farmers and graziers will continue to build on this great progress, mostly made over the last three years.

Data from LIC’s MINDA Weights programme also shows that farmers are weighing their heifers more often.

Farmers are now, on average, weighing heifers 3.4 times in the first two years of their life, up from 3.2 times. This is great, but again we’d like to see this improve even more. It’s good practice to weigh heifers every four to eight weeks, with a minimum of every 12 weeks.

If heifers are being grazed off-farm, then weighing is important for when stock move from one farm to another, to be clear on what their current weights are and inform the grazier if there any animals might not meet their minimum weight-for-age requirements.

Weighing heifers is more important when they are young because it is easier for them to fall behind target weights. A drop of 200g in growth per day may seem small, but it can have a huge impact on the growth of a young animal. Skeletal growth is influenced by pre-puberty nutrition and management, and can never be made up if missed.

Weighing and reviewing the data can pick up low growth early on and alert dairy farmers or graziers to alter their mob management or intervene for underweight animals.

A study published in the New Zealand Society of Animal Production journal found New Zealand farmers have significantly improved their pre-mating management, with the average heifer in the study achieving the pre-mating liveweight target.

However, pre-calving targets are still being missed. The time of year that seems most difficult for farmers to grow heifers is in their second autumn. This could be due to a range of factors, such as a shortage of autumn feed, poor pasture conditions or animal health issues.

There are four key times to weigh a heifer – at weaning, at 12-13 months to ensure they’re on track to achieve puberty, at 15 months to assess pre-puberty animal management and at 22 months to ensure they have met their pre-calving liveweight targets.

Regardless of the age or time of year, make heifer weighing a priority to help them meet liveweight targets and set them up to have the most productive life in the herd possible.

By Sarah Dirks – DairyNZ animal productivity developer