YS - Annerdale

January 2021

During my time at ForFarmers I have had the privilege of being able to go out on farm with numerous Youngstock Specialists. These insightful visits have shown me how ForFarmers Specialists work closely with their customers to achieve set goals in a rearing system.

During my visits I learnt a lot about monitoring youngstock and as a result this blog is dedicated to the subject matter. I would like to thank Ann Coombes, Amy Wilson and Emily Hayes along with their customers for allowing me to visit their farms.

Different types of calf weighing

Philippa weighing calves

There are two main ways of weighing calves on farm. The first is a traditional method, which utilises a weigh band. The band gives an estimate of the calf’s weight in the early stages of life and is most accurate up to weaning.

To weigh a calf using this method, the band is placed behind the front legs and around the chest. The calf should be standing normally, not uncomfortably or at an unusual angle. Using a weigh band is much easier when two people are involved, one can hold and measure the calf’s weight whilst the other takes down the measurements. This is where I came in handy out on farm! This method is a great option when the calf is young and light preferably under 100kg. When monitoring your calves important to record a birthweight so that you know a starting point for their development plan.

The second and more accurate option is to weigh calves with electronic scales. The calf walks onto the scales, a weight is then calibrated and displayed. It’s important that the scales are set on a hard flat surface to ensure accuracy. As the calves grow we recommend that a race should be used as it’s not only easier but it is also a beneficial training method for handling.

Reviewing the data

Both of these weighing methods are beneficial as long as they are carried out in a consistent manner. The data is then recorded and plotted on to a graph. The formula used is:

(Latest weight – previous weight) / Number of days between recordings = Calf DLWG

By recording weights regularly you can clearly see the DLWG from birth. It also highlights if there is a problem for example if a calf is falling behind and is under its target growth rates. By monitoring you can see which calves are performing well and which may need investigating. Black and white numbers provide a platform for the farmers and specialists to discuss feeding strategies, protocols and improvements.

Weighing graph

It has been one of my jobs to input the data into the graphs through the ForFarmers toolbox weighing programme and it has been interesting to see trends across different farms whilst seeing calves successfully achieve their growth weights.

The benefits of weighing calves

It is important to monitor the growth and development of a heifer to ensure she is at the correct size to be able to carry a calf. Weight is a key criteria which determines when a heifer will first begin oestrus, when she is around 55-60% of her adult bodyweight for breeding and 75% of frame growth.

The main reason to weigh calves is to ensure they are consistently meeting target growth rates which in turn means you are efficiency and economically maximising their feed conversion. By achieving these targets allows a farmer to get his calves to the target size at 13-14 months of age. In which case they are on track to hit Target 24 – ForFarmers main youngstock campaign. Target 24 is achieved when heifers calve at 24 months, this increases the longevity of the heifer, reduce rearing costs and increases milk production. It is imperative that heifers grow and gain weight without becoming fat, which can lead to issues pre- and post-calving.

With weighing at birth, weaning, post weaning, six months of age and up to breeding, this allows customers to identify any sickness and underperforming calves that need more attention whilst also identifying heifers that are ready for bulling.

The importance of weighing your calves

Philippa using a weigh band

Weighing calves is a massive benefit to a calving system. By taking the time to record and monitor, allows consistency within the system and ensures all calves are optimising their growth, whilst also controlling feed costs. Rearing a calf to a heifer is not just about feed, but also the aspects of labour, protocols and bedding.

Weighing also allows Youngstock Specialists to closely monitor calves and in turn they can recommend new ideas and help create a more efficient rearing plan with their customers. This builds long term relationships, loyalty and results in continuous improvement within their system.

Additionally the long term milk yields of a heifer can be affected through its growth from calf to heifer. Mammary development in a calf begins within 3 months of life and continues up to puberty which is critical time. It is important that a heifer does not become overly fat as this causes fat rather than milk secreting tissue being deposited in the udder, which in turn can cause issues later in life. By monitoring weights and diet along the way will help heifers transition into successful milking cows.

If you are interested in having your calves weighed or would like to speak to a Youngstock Specialists about your system please speak to your local Account Manager or send us online enquiry here