Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Young stock rearing: An undervalued activity

The first topic for my blog is youngstock rearing. This is a bit of a coincidence, because I chose this topic based on a presentation I gave recently for the CRV "young farmers" day in Temse (Belgium) a presentation on the economics of young stock raising (in Dutch). However, the topic of young stock raising is a good topic to start with. It is an activity that is undervalued by many many dairy farmers all over the world. We do agree that good quality heifers are important for the dairy farm, as replacement of older cows that are culled. But for most dairy farmers, the process of getting these high quality heifers is one of long planning. It takes 2 years to raise a heifer. So decisions taken, have their effect a long time later. Many other decisions that a herdsman take, have a much more immediate effect. Good young stock rearing, however, is an important activity that does need the attention of the dairymen and the veterinarians world wide.

Besides the quality of heifers (which is not something I am expert in), there is an economic side of youngstock raising. And again, this is something that is underestimated by many people. Many herdsman do not know the costs of raising a heifer. In most accounting systems (at least in the Netherlands), the costs for young stock raising are not distinguished, so the feeding costs are just part of the (much larger) feeding bill, labour costs are just part of labour  etc. While recent calculations by our PhD student Norhariani (Yanie) Mohd Nor indicate that rearing one fresh heifer costs € 1.540. Without labour and housing, these costs are € 861. These calculations have been submitted for publication.  A preliminary version of this publication (with a little different outcomes) has been published in the proceedings of the Workshop on Animal Health Economics, held last year in Nantes. Yani is from the University Putra Malaysia and doing a PhD at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine of Utrecht Univesity, in close collaboration with the chair group Business Economics of Wageningen University. Her topic is economics of young stock management and she is advised by Wilma Steeneveld, Monique Mourtis and myself

In general, there are two major ways that the costs of young stock rearing can be reduced:

1. Decrease the calving age. On average, in the Netherlands, heifers calf at an age of 27 months, while 24 months is optimal. Suppose that you need, for a farm of 100 dairy cows, 30 replacement animals per year. With a calving age of 27 months, you'll have a little more than 67 head of youngstock on your farm. With a calving age of 24 months, this number is 60, which is a saving of approximately 12 % on the costs of young stock rearing. Over and over, research has shown that it is very well possible to raise a well developed heifer, with a good production capacity in 24 months.

2. With a lower culling rate, less replacement heifers are necessary. This is a very direct method to save in costs for young stock rearing.

In short, rearing young stock deserves more attention than it often gets. Costs of young stock rearing are hidden and can easily be reduced.

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