Produce more milk with a separate group of heifers
Practical study Utrecht University, Wageningen University & Research, Vetvice and Nedap
Sense of sensors in transition management
On a dairy farm, there is certainly no shortage of data. Key performance indicators for milk production and livestock health have come to form an indispensable part of modern-day livestock farming and with the advent of sensors, the flow of data has expanded still further. In a large-scale practical study, Utrecht University, Wageningen University & Research, Vetvice and Nedap are seeking to identify a method that will make it possible to derive practical value from the information provided by sensors. In a series of articles, we will look over their shoulders as they carry out their research. In this edition: A separated group of heifers produces more milk.
When everything is new
On introduction to the livestock, heifers are at the bottom of the pecking order. They are smaller than adult cattle and experience greater stress. “For heifers, everything is new. They undergo a metabolic change for the production of milk and need to learn to walk to the milking parlor and the feeder,” says Van Eerdenburg. “In a separate group, heifers face less stress because they do not get into conflict situations with older animals. This not only contributes to increased milk production, but also improves the wellbeing of the animals.” For small businesses, separate housing of heifers is more difficult to achieve, but, in Van Eerdenburg’s opinion, it is feasible to look after them as a separate group from as few as a dozen heifers.
It is even clearer that introduction after three days leads to greater stress (more steps) than doing so right after calving. Certain farmers wait a few days with the introduction of heifers into the herd, but this effort is in fact in vain. Van Eerdenburg: “On the day of calving, heifers are geared up to defending their calf, and are thus more assertive. This is hormonally driven.”
The advantages of a separate group of heifers are all well and good, but what happens if the heifer still ends up in the group of mature cows after her second calving? “This question is justified, but the problems at introduction are not extended. The advantage of keeping a separate group of heifers lies in particular in being able to better respond to heifers’ typical eating behavior,” says project coordinator Jan Hulsen. Heifers eat more slowly than mature cows; they will more easily get the extra time needed in a group of peers than in a group with dominant older cows. The routine of milking and feeding is no different during the second lactation, as is well-known.
However, the new second cow calf will still have to determine her ranking. Hulsen: “However, this already happens after two or three days, that is not the problem in regards to introduction.” The occupancy of the barn is especially important, argue Hulsen and Van Eerdenburg. “Occupancy of more than 80% already impacts on milk production,” claims Van Eerdenburg. “Heifers need to lie down for twelve to fourteen hours a day. At ten hours, you already lose money. Each extra hour of lying down yields one and a half kilos of milk. This also explains the additional milk in a separate group of heifers. Sensors can precisely demonstrate this.”
Read more articles about the large-scale practical study Sense of Sensors in Transition Management.