A study of dairy heifer rearing practices from birth to weaning and their associated costs on UK dairy farms

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Scientific Research Publishing
Copyright © 201 5 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution International License (CC BY)
There are many inputs into the dairy replacement herd which impact not only on the cost of rearing heifers from birth to first calving, but also on their future longevity and production potential. This study determined the current cost of rearing dairy heifers in the UK through the calculation and analysis of individual costs on a subset of 102 UK dairy farms. Each farm was visited and an extensive heifer rearing questionnaire was completed. Current heifer rearing practices were recorded to provide insight into critical management decisions. A cost analysis workbook was developed to calculate the costs of inputs in the pre-weaning period for labour, calving, feed, housing, health treatments and vaccinations, waste storage, machinery and equipment, and utilities. The average age at weaning was 62 d. The mean cost of rearing from birth to weaning was £195.19 per heifer with a mean daily cost of £3.14 (excluding the opportunity cost of the calf). This ranged from £1.68 to £6.11 among farms, reflecting major differences in management strategies and efficiency. The highest contribution to total costs came from feed (colostrum, milk, starter and forage) at 48.5% with milk feeding making up the greatest proportion of this at 37.3%. The next major expenses were bedding and labour, contributing 12.3% and 11.2% respectively. Unsurprisingly, delaying age at weaning increased total cost by £3.53 per day. Total costs were on average 45% higher on organic farms than conventional due to higher feed costs and later weaning. Calving pattern also had a strong association with the total cost being lowest with spring calving, intermediate with autumn calving and highest in multi block and all year round calving herds.
Weaning, Heifer, Cost analysis
Open Journal of Animal Sciences, 2015, 5 (2), pp. 185 - 197 (12)