Young Stock

Young Stock

Targeting Young Stock Growth

By employing the right management practices you’ll give your calves the best chance to meet industry liveweight targets and protect your future income.

After a busy few months filled with calf-raising tasks, it’s tempting take a breather once the animals reach their first weight targets. But while the calves no longer demand daily attention, they should nevertheless remain front of mind.

For calves born in July and August, the current six-month milestone is particularly relevant because growth rates traditionally tend to slip from there. And given that weight – rather than age – determines an animal's maturity, reproductive performance and therefore future milk production, it’s imperative that the stock gain weight at an appropriate rate.

However, set-backs often occur; as documented in a 2012 LIC study, growth targets begin to slip after six months. By time the calves are 22 months’ old, nearly three-quarters of them are 11% below target weights. The task at hand, therefore, is to manage the factors that trigger growth checks.

“Good monitoring and assessments are essential,” says Wendy Morgan, SealesWinslow Nutrition and Quality Manager. “Regular weigh-ins help chart the progress and highlight any growth issues. It means you can respond promptly and effectively.”

Of course, weight-loss is often stress-related, as can be observed when animals are transported. Stress increases when stock need to establish a new hierarchy at a different grazing property. Their bodies respond with increased cortisol levels, disrupting their metabolism - it basically diverts energy that would otherwise be utilised for growth. The best management response to avoid stress-related weight loss is offering a transition feed such as SealesWinslow’s Weightgainer pellets – a superb nutritional option that’s very convenient to use.

The role of supplementary feed also cannot be overstated when faced with feed shortages arising from summer droughts.

To avoid getting caught out, Wendy suggests pre-empting shortages and extending the available forage as much as possible. “A supplementary feed like Weightgainer is your best option for making the most of existing pasture while helping to maintain liveweight or prevent weight loss.”

It’s a cost-effective measure and it’s specially formulated for the needs of young stock and when extra gains need to be made.

Contact your SealesWinslow representative to discuss how you can achieve good growth rates during this summer and beyond.

Young Stock

Balanced Nutrients

Ensuring young stock fulfil their potential is critical to the future success of your farm business.

Researchers at LIC analysed dairy heifer data and discovered that the majority of young stock were failing to meet industry liveweight targets. In fact, at 22 months they were on average 11% below target.  This will affect their chances of getting in calf and their milk production.

Supplying adequate amounts of good-quality forage can be problematic at certain times of the year, but ensuring the rumen microflora is functioning at its peak will help your stock to make the most of available supplies. A well-functioning rumen is particularly important when young stock make the transition to pasture.

So what do the microorganisms in the rumen require to thrive? They need:

  • a supply of cellulose (a component of feed dry matter)
  • rumen degradable protein
  • a source of energy
  • vitamins and minerals

Young Stock

Importance of Growth Rates

Typically dairy heifers are coming into the dairy herd too light.

Official statistics (LIC/DairyNZ 2012-13) show that the average Holstein Friesian is not achieving mature weight until it is a 6 year old.  With over 80 kg of growth in the first season, this means that the young cow is having to partition energy towards growth when this energy should be used for milking. 



The chart below shows the milk production from an average sized herd.  The purple dots denote the number of animals in each lactation, so for the first calvers (2 year olds) there are 70 of them.  The blue cross above shows their average milk yield if they milk for a full lactation of 305 days.

Lactation Number

The green bars above and below show the range of yields.

The best heifers in this herd would have achieved around 350 kgMS, whilst the worst only around 210 kgMS.

The highest yielding group are the sixth calvers (8 year olds), but again the range is large between the best and worst.

The orange line denotes the financial breakeven point so animals included are below the line are not contributing directly to the business profit.

Part of the answer lies in ensuring that heifers are well grown before they reach the milking herd. The financial cost of not getting heifers at >90% of mature weight is high.  Investing more in young stock can result in some healthy returns.

It is important to provide the growing heifer with a balanced supply of minerals and vitamins to support her through her first two years of life.  For the growing animal it is important to consistently grow the frame, the muscles and the fat at the right time to ensure she enters the herd in prime condition.

The major minerals of magnesium, phosphorous, calcium and sodium are necessities as well as trace elements of copper, selenium, manganese, cobalt, zinc and iodine and Vitamins A, D3 and E.



Young Stock

Remembering Replacements

Much emphasis is placed on rearing good quality calves from birth to 100 kg.  Attention is paid to management, health and nutrition and in the majority of cases, weight targets are monitored.  Unfortunately, between reaching 100 kg and the point of first calving, this care and attention can wane and targeted body weight gains are not reached.

Heifers often join the herd underweight and unable to perform to their potential.

If heifers are sent to a grazier it pays to remember that any transport that occurs can be a stressful experience and can cause growth checks.  The same occurs when a group of animals are formed and a new hierarchy has to be established at the grazing property.  Transportation stress has been shown to increase cortisol levels and increase numbers of neutrophils.  When stress occurs, it disrupts the normal functioning of the animal and in cases, can lead to illness.  In addition, the energy and minerals needed for stress response is then not available for normal growth needs

A supplementary feed can be considered at this time in order to help prevent the weight loss or to help maintain weights.  A budget should be set to feed 1-2 kg of a transition / weight gain pellet.  A diet containing moderate amounts of NDF, starch and protein is ideal; including a vitamin and mineral premix. 

Calves coming on to the property should be weighed as early as practically possible.  This gives a base line for further weights through the growing period and also helps identify if there are any smaller animals under 100 kg.  It is not necessary, nor economically viable, to continue with supplementary feeding throughout the time animals are on farm if sufficient, good quality pasture or silage is available.   These feeds can more than meet the needs of growing heifers.  However, in times of drought or other feed shortage, additional pelleted feed is an option to ensure animals keep up to their weight targets. As with all groups of animals, there will be a tail, animals that are not performing as expected.  With regular weighing and a targeted growth plan, the tail can be grouped together.  This allows for strategic use of additional supplementary feed.  These animals can then be put back with the rest of the herd once they have caught up and if necessary, a new tail group formed. 

Feed should be a specification similar to (Dry Matter basis):

  • Protein = 16%
  • ME = 12 MJ/kg
  • Starch = 25%
  • NDF = 35%

Minerals included should include Vitamin E and selenium to support the immune system.

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