Effect of management factors and blood metabolites during the rearing period on growth in dairy heifers on UK farms

Brickell, J S and McGowan, M M and Wathes, D C (2009) Effect of management factors and blood metabolites during the rearing period on growth in dairy heifers on UK farms. DOMESTIC ANIMAL ENDOCRINOLOGY, 36 (2). pp. 67-81.

[img] Text
1776.pdf
Restricted to Repository staff only

Download (747kB)

Abstract

Growth rates during rearing affect the age and body weight (BW) of replacement heifers at first calving. Diet and disease can affect growth via altered metabolic hormone concentrations, but are difficult to monitor accurately on commercial farms. This study investigated the effect of management and metabolic indices (IGF-I, insulin, glucose and urea) on the growth rate of 509 Holstein-Friesian heifers on 19 UK dairy farms. Size (BW, heart girth, height and crown-rump length) was measured at approximately 1, 6 and 15 months. The mean daily weight gain up to 6 months for all calves was 0.77kg/day, with extreme variability both between cohorts of calves (range 0.49-1.02kg/day) and between individual calves within farms (range 0.45-1.13kg/day). Growth was enhanced by supplemental colostrum, by milk replacer as opposed to whole milk and by ad libitum milk feeding and was reduced by gradual weaning and dehorning after weaning. Larger group size slowed growth before weaning (>6 calves) but increased it post-weaning (>20 calves). These management differences were reflected in altered plasma IGF-I concentrations, which were positively associated with growth throughout the rearing period. Larger calves at 1 month had a greater weight gain up to 6 months. Sub-optimum growth of some heifers within each cohort was established at an early age and resulted in animals reaching the start of breeding at an inadequate size (BW range 209-498kg at 15 months). This could be alleviated by altered management strategies and improved monitoring of growing heifers.