Jan 29

Weaning and the Post-Weaned Heifer: Ensuring Reliable Growth, Fertility, and Safe Delivery to First Calving

In this blog, we will explore various options and approaches to ensure reliable growth, fertility, and a safe journey to first calving. We will also highlight some of the key questions which are often asked in relation to this stage of heifer development. Understanding the intricacies of this stage is essential for dairy professionals to provide the necessary support and management to nurture productive and healthy cows.

The Importance of Successful Weaning: A Turning Point

Weaning is a crucial milestone in a calf’s life. Proper weaning sets the stage for the post-weaned period, where the heifer’s growth and reproductive performance will be shaped. Successful weaning ensures that calves continue to thrive while transitioning from milk to solid feed, minimising stress and health issues.

Options for Weaning: Making Informed Choices

Dairy farmers may be overwhelmed with the differing advice available relating to weaning practices or may simply be continuing to “do what they have always done” when it comes to weaning strategy.  In order to provide evidence-based advice on the optimal strategy for an individual farm it is important to consider the pro’s and con’s of the alternatives.

  • Abrupt Weaning: This traditional approach involves an immediate separation from milk and reliance solely on solid feed. Abrupt weaning is stressful for calves and can contribute to reduced growth rate performance and increased risk of health challenges.  For these reasons it is no longer advocated.
  • Gradual Weaning: Gradual weaning involves a phased reduction of milk while gradually increasing solid feed intake. This approach helps ease the transition for calves and provides time for their rumen to adapt to solid feed.  However, gradual weaning may be difficult to implement effectively on manual (bucket or teat based) feeding systems.
  • Stepped weaning: This approach can be utilized to give the benefits of a gradual weaning strategy whilst being easier to manage on a manual feeding system.  Milk allocation for calves is dropped down in 2 or 3 steps over a given period of time.

With any weaning approach there are a number of practical considerations in relation to how the strategy will be delivered which need to be answered. For example; should weaning time be determined by calf age, weight or solid feed intake? How long should the weaning period take? Should I reduce the number of milk feeds or the amount fed at each feed? 

Supporting Reliable Growth and Fertility: Nutrition is Key

During the post-weaned period, proper nutrition is vital to ensure reliable growth and support reproductive development in heifers. Providing the right balance of nutrients, including energy, protein, vitamins, and minerals, is crucial to promote healthy weight gain and prepare heifers for service and ultimately for their first calving.

Research has shown that post-weaned heifers with adequate nutrition tend to achieve better growth rates, attain target weights at appropriate ages, and experience earlier puberty and improved fertility. Proper nutrition and consequent improved growth rates also contributes to reducing age at first calving, which has a significant impact on the overall economic success of a dairy operation.

Safe Delivery to First Calving: Managing Growth and Body Condition

Preparing heifers for their first calving is a critical component of post-weaned management. Ensuring heifers are at the right body condition score and have reached the appropriate weight and size for calving age significantly reduces calving difficulties (dystocia) and allows for a smoother transition into the adult milking herd.

Dairy professionals should regularly monitor heifers’ weight and body condition during the post-weaned phase. Timely identification and intervention in cases of reduced growth rate can prevent long-term negative impacts on fertility and overall reproductive performance.

Join the Journey of Post-Weaned Heifer Management Excellence

The “Weaning and the Nutrition of the Post-Weaned Heifer” course component in TotalDairy’s workshop offers dairy professionals the opportunity to gain valuable insights into various weaning options and approaches. Participants will learn evidence-based practices to ensure reliable growth, fertility, and safe delivery to first calving.

By enrolling in this course, dairy professionals will be equipped with the knowledge and skills to optimise the post-weaned phase, setting the stage for healthier and more productive cows in the future.

Don’t miss this exclusive opportunity to enhance your expertise in the nutrition and management of replacement heifers. Join us on 6th – 7th March 2024 at The Gables Hotel, Bristol Road, Falfield, South Gloucestershire, GL12 8DL.

Book your place now: £600 + vat (Cost including Dinner, Bed, and Breakfast: £720 + vat).