The effects of poor calf health and nutrition on the lifetime performance of the dairy cow will be going under the microscope at this year’s TotalDairy Seminar.

As part of a Mole Valley Farmers workshop, Professor of Ruminant Nutrition Jean Margerison of Nottingham University will be tackling the subject.

In her presentation, entitled “Back to the future: Achieving a lifetime of profit from heifers”, Professor Margerison will highlight the financial benefits of investing in the newborn calf and ongoing nutrition, to ensure optimal long-term productivity.

She said: “Heifer rearing is the second highest cost linked to milk production, after feed. However, should you have any problems with calf rearing or replacement rate, it could in fact become the highest cost or equal to feed cost.

“There are big gains to be had from investing in early calf health and nutrition, as that has huge long-term consequences on survival, productivity and fertility."

International and Nottingham University based research has shown that any disease that causes inflammation - such as scours or pneumonia - can negatively affect weight gain and fertility. As a result, mature weight and age at first calving can be affected by anything up to a month.

This ultimately contributes to infertility - one of the main reasons for culling and high replacement rates.

Professor Margerison says heifer size and weight at first calving is paramount to lifetime performance. As such, health and feeding to ensure as many heifers as possible reach ‘your’ optimum target age at first calving is vital.

This means it’s important that heifers are seen as an investment and any cost cutting is carefully considered. For example, Professor Margerison believes opting for lower daily feed costs for more days can be a false economy.

“I want farmers to make decisions based on sound facts and figures,” she said.

The figures could well come as a surprise, as actually feeding less and calving heifers later will mean the farm will need to have more replacements on the ground, which will add costs that are potentially not currently being considered. Ultimately, Professor Margerison believes it’s about “investing wisely” to get the best return on investment.

TotalDairy takes place on 19-20 June 2019 at The Crowne Plaza Hotel, Stratford-upon-Avon.