UK - More heifers should be calving at two years of age providing management is right, British producers have been told.
Charlie Maclaren, a board member of the National Beef Association (NBA) has said that, given enough support, heifers can be serviced at 15 months.
Pedigree breeders are exceptions, timing calving at 28 or 36 months for shows and sales, as are hill breeds such as Galloway, Highlanders and Welsh Black.
Addressing the mainstream, he said: “In the modern day beef industry there is little room for calving at 3 years old.”
Using £1200 as a heifer rearing cost at two years, he questioned the expense of an additional non-productive third year.
However, this decision is ‘not to be taken lightly’, he added, listing a range of management techniques for assisting two year old heifers at first calving.
This is to combat higher stress levels, which treble when calving at two years old compared to three, according to US advisors.
The effect of age on calving stress is illustrated further by US thinking, which says a four year old cow has half the stress of a three year old in calving.
Two year olds require extra attention in calving and after, when the heifer requires energy to grow itself and the calf.
Mr Maclaren prescribed a 15 month weight of 400 to 420 kilos before calving down at 500 kilos.
In 2012, English Beef and Lamb Executive scientist Dr Mary Vickers gave a target bulling weight of 425 kilos – 65 per cent of a mature weight of 650 kilos.
This requires an average weight gain from birth of 0.9 kilos a days, said Dr Vickers, adding: “It is important that heifers have grown sufficient frame and have sufficient body condition (2.5-3) at breeding time. Ideally they should have had two oestrus cycles before the start of the breeding season.”
This was in response to British Cattle Movement Service data showing average first calving age to be 34 months.
Further to weight targets, there are other key management strategies to make life easier for the first calving heifer, said Mr Maclaren.
Treat first time heifers as a separate batch, calving them earlier than the rest and at a target weight of over 500 kilos, he advised.
Weaning calves a month earlier, using creep feed if necessary, offers rest and growing time.
“These are just a few ideas but you have to look at your own system,” said Mr Maclaren.
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