Correct underweight heifers at housing to prevent costly long-term issues

Farmers are urged to assess their heifers at housing and take action to correct any weight issues following reports that grazing shortages and heat stress this summer have impacted growth rates. 

Mole Valley Farmers’ Senior Nutritionist Dr Robin Hawkey said he had received several reports from farmers concerned their heifers were smaller than expected, which, if uncorrected, could cause costly long-term issues.  

Dr Hawkey said: “A few farmers have already discussed disappointing heifer growth rates, with one even having increased feeding in the summer, but did not still obtain expected targets.   

“If heifers don’t hit bulling weight or age at first calving targets, there will be long-term implications for their herd,” he warned. “Lifetime yields will be reduced and will also have a negative impact on the carbon footprint, which is becoming increasingly relevant.” 

Dr Hawkey fears the problem could be further exacerbated when heifers are housed and if silage quality is struggling.  

“Farmers could be further hindering an already compromised situation,” he said. “If the silage quality is struggling and farmers prioritise cows over the heifers, it will set them back. These are the future of the herd,” he stressed.  


Farmers should aim not only to calve heifers at 24 months but ensure at the correct size.  

To hit the 24-month calving target, heifers must weigh between 380-400kg or 60% of their adult weight at service (15 months old) and must be 90% of their mature body weight at calving. To hit these targets, heifers must average 0.8kg-1kg daily live weight gain.  


Dr Hawkey said if heifers are underweight at housing, a few months of supplementary feeding over winter could alleviate the problem and allow them to make up the gains.   

“When decent quality forage is in short supply, alternatives can help, such as feeding forage extender blends or straw-based rations.  

“Straw-based rations need to be carefully balanced in terms of protein, specifically rumen degradable protein, often supplied by compounds and blends including rapeseed and feed grade urea. 

“Molassed-based products such as Regumaize and Nutrimaize also contain urea but have the additional benefit of sugar, which helps support energy supply. Adequate mineral and vitamin provision need to be considered, particularly biotin for heifers,” he added. 

Lifetime Heifer 24 from Mole Valley Feed Solutions also makes a suitable feed option for youngstock to ease forage shortages. It contains 24% protein to balance rations and promote excellent heifer frame growth and specific minerals and vitamins for optimal health. The high levels of bypass protein enable heifers to achieve their full genetic potential, with research from Nottingham University supporting this.  

Dr Hawkey added: “There is so much research on the benefits of calving at 24 months, if a heifer is too small at calving, that animal probably won’t perform for its lifetime,” he said.  

For more information on maximising heifer growth rates speak to your Nutritionist or call the Mole Valley Farmers’ team on 01566 780261.