Numerous dairy farmers who routinely weigh stock have noted disappointing average daily weight gains in replacement heifers since housing, according to the latest Teagasc’s Dairy Newsletter.

Advisors point out that this is not too surprising given the reports of poor silage quality (67 DMD or less) on many farms this winter.

To achieve a target weight of 340kg at bulling, Friesian-type heifers should be 280kg around mid-February. Producers should target an early turnout for the lightest 25% of heifers, maintaining 1.5-2kg meal intake/head for the first 10-14 days at grass.

Producing replacement heifers for a herd can be a costly business – €1,451/head – according to Teagasc research. On average, it takes almost two lactations before this animal has covered her cost and starts generating income.

Teagasc advisors are confirming an abundance of quality grass on most dairy farms, which offers potential to reduce spring feed costs.

Fresh-calved cows require a minimum of 11-12kg/day forage dry matter, which – ideally – should come from grass only. The use of techniques such as strip wires and on-off grazing will maximise grass intake. Silage can be offered to meet deficits if grass is scarce or intake is limited by very poor weather conditions.

A high energy: low protein (14% crude protein or less) works well with grass in the diet offered to freshly calved cows. The recommended feeding rate is at 3-4kg/head on a daily basis, if stock is out on a full time basis on or 5kg with grass by day only. Concentrate intake should be reduced by 1kg/day where once daily milking is practised.

Early indications from Teagasc Profit Monitor analysis of 2014 figures suggest that both milk price and gross output were only slightly reduced in 2014, compared to 2013. Average variable costs were 2.5c/L lower (mainly linked to dairy feed), while fixed costs remain unchanged with the result that net profit is increased by 2.0c/L year-on-year.