Research now 70 years old showed that poorly-reared young stock will carry this burden into later life.  It's a familiar picture. You see poorly reared calves that become poor yearlings that end up as unproductive mature stock.


To get young stock to grow from weaners to yearlings to reach their optimal target weight for mating and calving.

Good signs

  • Good weaned calves that keep on growing averaging close to 1kg/day up to yearlings.
  • No health or ill-thrift problems with minimal veterinary costs.
  • Animals that start cycling well before 12 months of age.

Bad signs

  • Poorly grown, miserable-looking rising yearlings too small for mating.
  • High death rates (above 3%) from weaning to yearling stage.
  • Permanent scouring blamed on worms.
  • No animals showing oestrus.

Animals grazed on outside farms

Grazing young stock on contract off the farm is now the common practice. It has the advantage of allowing greater production on every hectare of the main farm through greater stocking rates of lactating animals.

The disadvantage is that management of the stock is in the hands of the grazier. It's important that the owner builds performance targets into the contract but many farmers don't do this and trust the grazier. Animal health is extremely important as where a grazier runs stock from different owners, then cross infections can occur, e.g. with drench-resistant internal parasites.

Target weights

Success is about making sure animals have reached their target weights. Remember that target weight is the weight every animal in the group should reach. It is not an average weight for the group. Here are some currently accepted target weights in New Zealand.

Age Jersey (kg) Holstein-Friesian (kg)
Birth 25 35
Weaning (8-10 wks) 65-75 80-90
6 months 110 135
12 months 190 235
15 months 230 285
18 months 270 335
24 months (pre-calve) 400 490
24 months (post-calve) 335 435
Birth - 2 years (post-calve) 0.46kg/day 0.56kg/day

Chest girth measurements

If you can't beg, borrow or hire some scales, then chest girth measurements are a last resort because there is a lot of variation within animals of different sizes and they cannot take into account body condition (fatness).  Only use chest girth on calves, and even then, don't buy calves on a per kg live weight using this measure.  Here are some values as a rough guide.

Weight (kg) Chest girth (cm)
50 85-87
100 100-105
150 115-120
200 135
250 145

Fast and slow growth -which is better?

Unlike beef cattle where you want maximum "weight-for-age" all the time, research many years ago showed that dairy heifers should not be grown too fast and "fattened". The old teaching was that too high a feeding level produces fat in the developing udder tissue, which reduces milk production later in life.

The key aim is to get heifers to grow fast enough to reach puberty at around 12 months of age and start coming on heat at 15 months old. Puberty is more controlled by weight than age, but there are exceptions such as well-grown Holstein-Friesian heifer calves coming on heat at 4 months old.

After heifers get pregnant, the feeding level doesn't influence udder development, and reaching the target weight for first calving is very important, as this influences lactation and oestrous afterward.

Heifer growth targets

Here's a table of target live weights based on the mature weight of cows in the herd. It makes a lot more sense than just having one target weight, as it takes into account different breeds and farming conditions.  Fifteen months is a mating weight and 24 months is a calving weight.

Mature Wt Target Wt 350kg 400kg 450kg 55kg 550kg 600kg
6 mo 30% 105 120 135 150 165 180
15 mo 60% 210 240 270 300 330 360
22mo 90% 315 360 405 450 495 540

Feeding levels to achieve good weights

This table shows Dry Matter (DM) intakes to achieve different targets.

Targets 0.4kg/day 0.6kg/day 0.8kg/day
For 100 kg LW 3.4kg DM 4.3kg DM 6.3 kg DM
For 200 kg LW 4.6 5.5 6.3
For 300 kg LW 5.6 6.5 7.4
For 400 kg LW 6.6 7.4 8.3
For 500 kg LW 7.5 8.3 9.2

Internal parasite control

It's more important than ever before, that before you decide to drench cattle for worms, you talk to your veterinarian to get a correct diagnosis of the problem. Just buying a drench for stock where their problem is not worms will only increase the chances of accelerating drench resistance in the worms. The same comments relate to external parasites (mainly lice) too.