Heifer rearing – worth the investment?

Published 27 April 15

A recent DairyCo-funded study looks at the economics of heifer rearing practices.

Recent estimates of the cost of rearing have ranged from £1,000 to £1,500, and tend to average around £1,200. But, to create a more accurate estimate – and address an absence of GB-based empirical data, DairyCo funded a survey of 102 dairy farms in England, Scotland and Wales.

Dr Alana Boulton from the Royal Veterinary College comments on the results of her PhD study.

“The research provides dairy farmers with an evidence base for decision-making on youngstock rearing production and health management as well as on the monitoring and evaluation of the system. Overall, the results of the economic analysis indicate that management decisions on key reproduction events and grazing policy significantly influence the cost of rearing.”

The cost of rearing, including fixed and variable costs, interest on capital and opportunity costs ranged from £1,073.36 to £3,070.46, with an average cost of £1,819.01 – considerably more than previous estimates. The period from birth to weaning equated on average to 10.8% of the total cost of rearing, weaning to conception made up an average of 40.4% to total cost, with conception to calving accounting for 24.5%. Interest on capital and opportunity cost of a dairy heifer accounted on average for 24.3% of the total cost of rearing. 

The daily cost of rearing per heifer ranged from £1.47 to £3.35 with an average of £2.31. The period from birth to weaning had the highest average daily cost of £3.14, weaning to conception had an intermediate daily cost of £1.65 and conception to calving had the lowest daily rearing cost of £1.64 per heifer.

Feed accounted for the largest proportion of costs overall. Excluding interest and opportunity cost, purchased feed and home-grown forage accounted for 36.8% and grazing 6.9% to the total cost of rearing. Labour and bedding were the next two largest costs accounting for 22.3% and 8.7% of the total rearing costs, respectively.

Heifers are the future of the dairy herd and deserve to have the best management that incorporates all the latest research and management advice. In return, they will repay the investment through higher milk production and a longer productive life.

Rachael Chamberlayne, DairyCo’s senior product manager for business says: “It’s important to know exactly how much you spend on heifer rearing, as it’s easy to under estimate their true cost. By understanding what the rearing costs are, and where they are coming from, you can look to make adjustments and improvements. This can result in well grown, productive replacements with the optimum economic efficiency.”

DairyCo has produced a series of factsheets and associated short films on how to optimise calf performance. The films are available to watch and the factsheets are available to download at www.dairyco.org.uk/calves