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Home / Smart Harvest

The art of raising healthy heifers for sale

Healthy heifers offer a sure continuity to a thriving dairy farming business. It is therefore prudent to raise female calves well as you groom them to slowly join the herd.

When you cull the older cows due to decreased milk production, mastitis, pendulous udder, feet problems or otherwise these little calves become the replacement heifers.

How do you take care of your calves from birth to 24 months when they are expected to calf down?

Feeding of colostrum

Colostrum is the first milk produced by the cow after giving birth. Its thick, yellow and contains antibodies and other elements that provide the calf with immunity before its own develops with time.

The calf can only benefit from these antibodies within the first 24 hours since birth and therefore it should ingest a good amount of colostrum immediately after birth.

Suckling allows better uptake of these antibodies than bucket milk, according to research.

Feeding of milk

A calf should get milk equivalent to at least 10 per cent of its body weight so as to achieve a daily weight gain of 500 grammes.

Water intake; in the warm weather provide limited amounts of water, say one litre, for the calf to drink. You can warm this water during cold season. Note that calves are naïve and cannot limit the amount of water they drink.

Failure to limit water intake prompts the calf to over drink which causes red urine. Once the calf grows up avail the water all the time (ad libitum).

Feeding of calf pellets; These are energy-rich and can be added to the milk from around the third week. This practise promotes the development of the fore stomachs – rumen and reticulum - of the calf and places the calf at an advantage position to start feeding on dry matter early enough.

Once the calf is weaned:

Deworming and tick control — this is done after every three months to control worms and ticks when the calves are allowed to graze with other cows.

Feeding: The calf should be fed with a balanced ration of carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, mineral salts and water. The ration should be sufficient to take her to around 300 kilos by 15 months when she is due for service. A high phosphorous salt enhances ovulation. Proper feeding improves conception rate and enables the heifer to carry a health foetus to term. Steaming up with a high concentrate diet two months to calving helps the heifer handle the stress of calving and produce sufficient amounts of milk.

Record keeping

The heifer should have a name tag and breed details be recorded to show the sire and dam details as well as medical records. 

At service: Well raised heifers show sexual maturity around nine months but it is prudent to allow them to be physically mature at around 13 to 15 months and weigh between 300 and 350kgs to avoid calving complications when they are bred too young.

When they are ready for service they may start mounting on other heifers, stand to be mounted, show some slimy mucous on the vulva and become restless. Observe AM-PM rule, that is, when they start showing signs in the morning, let them be served by a qualified veterinarian in the evening and when they start showing signs in the evening they should be served in the morning. Always use good quality semen such a sexed semen to increase chances of getting female calves.

Pregnancy diagnosis: This can be done from around 60 days’ post service to confirm conception. It a good practice since you are able to know the heifers that did not conceive and serve them again.

Revenue: An in-calf heifer at around six months of pregnancy can fetch between Sh100,000 to Sh250,000 making a good business case.

[Dr Paul Kangethe, [email protected]


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