Cow Management

Higher Plane Of Nutrition Will Pay Dividends

For heifer calves to achieve a target bodyweight of 400kg by 14 months so that they can calve at 24 months – the recognised optimum for profitability – then a higher plane of nutrition is required on many UK units, according to GLW Feeds’ Paul Mardell.

“Typically young calves are only being fed to achieve growth rates of between 500g and 600g per day in the first three months. But this means that they will only reach a suitable weight for first insemination at around 17 months of age”, he explains.

“If they are to reach the target weight of 400k for insemination and meet the goal of calving at 24 months, then calves will need to be 120kg at three months of age. So on many units, a higher level of nutrition is needed”.

In a Dutch trial, calves were reared on four levels of nutrition. Under a typical UK feeding regime (about 500g of calf milk powder), calves weighed 94kg after three months, but Dutch producers provide a higher plane of nutrition (around 600g) and this was reflected in the higher growth rates. But, as two further ‘ high nutrition’ regimes demonstrated, the higher early growth rates mean calves were better able to achieve the target weight of 120kg at three months, and, ultimately went on to reach weights suitable for breeding at 13 and 14 months (see Table).

“To achieve these higher growth rates, attention to both the nutrition and management of young calves is needed. That’s everything from feeding good quality colostrum at birth, to the continuation of a good level of nutrition post-weaning”, says Mr Mardell.

In recognition of this important period, his company has introduced a range of high quality calf products and compiled a calf-rearing blueprint, which includes age by weight targets. It is also offering a management consultancy service to help producers check that heifer growth rates are on track.

Growth rate

typical’ UK

typical’ Dutch

High nutrition A

High nutrition B

Average growth rate, weeks one to nine (g/day)





Average growth rate, first three months (g/day)





Weight after three months (kg)





Age at first calving (months)