Commercial practice of out-wintering dairy heifers in Great Britain
Keywords:live weight, body condition, pasture, brassica, fodder beet
The majority of dairy cattle in Great Britain (GB) are housed during winter but replacement heifers are out-wintered on some farms, a practice that may reduce the need for high capital-cost housing and facilitate herd expansion. Dairy farmers that were out-wintering replacement heifers in GB in 2012 were surveyed to determine current practice and attitudes. A typical system involved heifers strip grazing pasture or a crop, with baled grass silage as supplementary feed; strongly resembling outdoor wintering systems in New Zealand. Many used more than one grazed forage; predominantly, pasture on 68%, kale on 53% and fodder beet on 33% of farms. Supplementary feed was 44% of the diet in younger, and 35% in older heifers. Although farms were approximately three times larger than the national average and 60% were expanding, expanding herd size was not the primary reason for out-wintering, with the main reasons being to reduce cost and improve animal health and welfare. Farmers that out-wintered heifers typically reported good animal average dairy gain of 0.6 kg/d and high body condition, however, this contrasts with some measured performance in GB. Farmers may benefit from accurate feed allocation and monitoring heifer live weight during winter to ensure high performance.
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