A FOCUS on trace elements has improved heifer growth rates at a Pembrokeshire dairy farm.

Having replacements at target weight, from birth to calving, is one of the most important aspects of dairy farming, says Rachel Bachelor, who farms with her parents at Chapel Farm, Castlemartin.

Trials have shown that heavier heifers produce significantly more milk than lighter heifers and that weight at first calving has a considerable effect on second lactation milk yield.

At Chapel Farm, the Bachelors run a herd of 315 dairy cows and followers, mainly crossbreds and pedigree Jerseys. The herd calves in two blocks, in the spring and autumn.

The main diet is grazed grass with the spring calvers turned out in January and housed in November, before drying off.

To meet the herd’s trace element requirements, animals are bolused with a slow-release bolus containing selenium, iodine, cobalt and copper.

Rachel said getting heifers off to a good start is important for achieving target weights at bulling. If replacement performance is not satisfactory, it will affect herd performance for years to come.

The consequences of having calves behind target are that they will usually end up calving-down under target weight, or calving late, with serious loss of milk for the first and second lactations.

“We have seen quite an improvement in growth rates since bolusing,’’ said Rachel. “The heifers that are now in milk are a lot bigger than the size they would normally have been before they had Tracesure Cu/I.

“Cows are calving easier, calves are coming out easier and they have better confirmation. Milk output is up too.’’