AHDB Dairy's heifer rearing cost calculator enables farmers to calculate farm specific costs

Monday, 28 November 2016

Dairy farmers can now access an updated, online version of AHDB Dairy’s Heifer Rearing Cost Calculator to work out how much it is costing to rear heifers on their specific farm.

The tool enables farmers to input their own costs for their heifer rearing programme. Alternatively, they can use updated, default values to support their own data.

These values have been calculated following farm trial work carried out by AHDB Dairy and The Royal Veterinary College (RVC). The calculator splits out the rearing period into three key stages; birth to weaning, weaning to conception and conception to calving.

Farmers can then input various parameters such as target age at first calving, average heifer first lactation yields, forage growing inputs, forage quality and milk and concentrate use. A cost for each stage and a total cost is then calculated.

Speaking at a recent Calf to Calving event at Blackmarsh Farm, Dorset, AHDB Dairy’s dairy senior scientist Dr Jenny Gibbons, said farmers had much to gain from calculating costs for their farm. This was particularly important considering the RVC and AHDB trial found rearing costs varied considerably from an average £1,800/heifer up to £3,000/heifer.

She said: “Ultimately, the more informed you are, the better business decisions you can make and this calculator enables you to work out your costs, for your heifers, on your system. That means you can focus on specific areas where you can make savings.”

However, Dr Gibbons emphasised that any steps to control costs should be taken with caution and weighed up against their potential impact on heifer growth. Ultimately, the aim should be to:

  • Double birth weight at weaning
  • Target an average daily live weight gain from birth to conception of 800-900g/day
  • Heifers should be 50% of mature cow body weight by 12 months
  • Calve down at 90% of mature body weight at 24 months.

She said achieving these growth rate targets was reliant on good nutrition and husbandry. However, hitting them could bring significant cost savings, considering every day over an age at first calving of 24 months cost £2.87 a head, according to the AHDB and RVC research work.

Figures also showed that a reduction in average age at first calving from 26 to 24 months represented a saving of nearly 16% of the total cost of rearing.

With a growing number of retailers also expecting their producers to know their heifer rearing costs, this tool could also act as an aid to meet these requirements.

In the future, the aim is to also use the calculator as a benchmarking tool as part of AHDB Dairy’s Calf to Calving initiative.

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