Association between growth rates, age at first calving and subsequent fertility, milk production and survival in Holstein-Friesian heifers


Age at first calving (AFC) affects the profitability of dairy enterprises. This study examined the relationships between AFC and subsequent fertility, milk production and survival up to third calving in UK Holstein-Friesian heifers; Study 1 comprised 134 consecutively born heifers from the same herd (AFC 764 ± 8 days) and Study 2 contained 445 heifers born on 17 farms (AFC 796 ± 6 days). Growth rates and fertility during rearing were monitored and animals were subsequently divided into four AFC groups for analysis: <23 months, 23 - 25 months, 26 - 30 months and >30 months. The actual AFC reflected both growth rate and heifer fertility, with later calving heifers already lighter by 6 months of age. The proportion conceiving to first service was highest (93% and 84% for Studies 1 and 2, respectively) for the youngest AFC group. Fertility in the first lactation was best in cows calving at 23 - 25 months and worst in the oldest AFC group. Milk production parameters in the first and second lactations were broadly similar between AFC groups but significantly more heifers with an AFC < 26 months calved for a third time. These younger calving animals therefore achieved more days in milk over 5 years, with >44% of their days alive spent in milk production compared with only 18% - 40% in cows calving at ≥26 months. Hence cows with an AFC < 26 months produced the most milk in their first 5 years of life. These results indicate that an AFC of <26 months="" required="" both="" a="" growth="" rate="">0.75 kg/d up to 15 months and good heifer fertility and resulted in the best subsequent performance.

Share and Cite:

Cooke, J. , Cheng, Z. , Bourne, N. and Wathes, D. (2013) Association between growth rates, age at first calving and subsequent fertility, milk production and survival in Holstein-Friesian heifers. Open Journal of Animal Sciences, 3, 1-12. doi: 10.4236/ojas.2013.31001.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Tozer, P.R. and Heinrichs, A.J. (2001) What affects the costs of raising replacement dairy heifers: A multiple-component analysis. Journal of Dairy Science, 84, 1836-1844. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(01)74623-1
[2] Brickell, J.S., Bourne, N., McGowan, M.M. and Wathes, D.C. (2009) Effect of growth and development during the rearing period on the subsequent fertility of nulliparous Holstein-Friesian heifers. Theriogenology, 72, 408-416. doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2009.03.015
[3] Johnson, K., Burn, C.C. and Wathes, D.C. (2011) Rates and risk factors for contagious disease and mortality in young dairy heifers. CAB Reviews, 6, No. 059.
[4] Pirlo, G., Miglior, F. and Speroni, M. (2000) Effect of age at first calving on production traits and on difference between milk returns and rearing costs in Italian Holsteins. Journal of Dairy Science, 83, 606-608. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(00)74919-8
[5] Mayne, C.S., McCoy, M.A., Lennox, S.D., Mackey, D.R., Verner, M., Catney, D.C., McCaughey, W.J., Wylie, A.R., Kennedy, B.W. and Gor-don, F.J. (2002) Fertility of dairy cows in Northern Ireland. Veterinary Record, 150, 707- 713. doi:10.1136/vr.150.23.707
[6] Hare, E., Norman, H.D. and Wright, J.R. (2006) Trends in calving ages and calving intervals for dairy cattle breeds in the United States. Journal of Dairy Science, 89, 365-370. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(06)72102-6
[7] Losinger, W.C. and Heinrichs, A.J. (1997) An analysis of age and body weight at first calving for Holsteins in the United States. Preventative Veterinary Medicine, 32, 193- 205. doi:10.1016/S0167-5877(97)00018-4
[8] Lin, C.Y., McAllis-ter, A.J., Batra, T.R., Lee, A.J., Roy, G.L., Vesely, J.A., Wauthy, J.M. and Winter, K.A. (1986) Production and reproduction of early and late bred dairy heifers. Journal of Dairy Science, 69, 760-768. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(86)80465-9
[9] Ettema, J.F. and Santos, J.E.P. (2004) Impact of age at calving on lactation, reproduction, health, and income in first-parity Holsteins on commercial farms. Journal of Dairy Science, 87, 2730-2742. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(04)73400-1
[10] Evans, R.D., Wallace, M., Garrick, D.J., Dillon, P., Berry, D.P. and Olori, V. (2006) Effects of calving age, breed fraction and month of calving on calving interval and survival across parities in Irish spring-calving dairy cows. Livestock Science, 100, 216-230. doi:10.1016/j.livprodsci.2005.09.003
[11] Keown, J.F. and Everett, R.W. (1986) Effect of days carried calf, days dry, and weight of first calf heifers on yield. Journal of Dairy Science, 69, 1891-1896. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(86)80615-4
[12] Hoffman, P.C. (1997) Optimum body size of Holstein replacement heifers. Journal of Animal Science, 75, 836-845.
[13] Dawson, L.E.R. and Carson, A.F. (2004) Management of the dairy heifer. Cattle Practice, 12, 181-192.
[14] Mourits, M.C.M., Galligan, D.T., Dijkhuizen, A.A. and Huirne, R.B.M. (2000) Optimization of dairy heifer management decisions based on production condi-tions of Pennsylvania. Journal of Dairy Science, 83, 1989-1997. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(00)75076-4
[15] Serjsen, K. (2005) Mammary development. In: Garnsworthy, P.C., Ed., Calf and Heifer Rearing: Principles of Rearing the Modern Dairy Heifer from Calf to Calving, Nottingham University Press, Nottingham, 237-251.
[16] Van Amburgh, M.E., Galton, D.M., Bauman, D.E., Everett, R.W., Fox, D.G., Chase, L.E. and Erb, H.N. (1998) Effects of three prepubertal body growth rates on performance of Holstein heifers during first lactation. Journal of Dairy Science, 81, 527-538. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(98)75604-8
[17] Macdonald, K.A., Penno, J.W., Bryant, A.M. and Roche, J.R. (2005) Effect of feeding level pre- and post-puberty and body weight at first calving on growth, milk production, and fertility in grazing dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science, 88, 3363-3375. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(05)73020-4
[18] Sakaguchi, M., Suzuki, T., Sasamoto, Y., Takahashi, Y., Nishiura, A. and Aoki, M. (2005) Effects of first breeding age on the production and reproduction of Holstein heifers up to the third lactation. Animal Science Journal, 76, 419-426. doi:10.1111/j.1740-0929.2005.00285.x
[19] Esslemont, R.J. and Kossaibati, M.A. (1997) The cost of respiratory diseases in dairy heifer calves. The Bovine Practitioner, 33, 174-178.
[20] Brickell, J.S. and Wathes, D.C. (2011) A descriptive study of the survival of Holstein-Friesian heifers through to third calving on English dairy farms. Journal of Dairy Science, 94, 1831-1838. doi:10.3168/jds.2010-3710
[21] Simerl, N.A., Wilcox, C.J. and Thatcher, W.W. (1992) Postpartum performance of dairy heifers freshening at young ages. Journal of Dairy Science, 75, 590-595. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(92)77796-0
[22] Mee, J.F. (2008) Prevalence and risk factors for dystocia in dairy cattle: A review. Veterinary Journal, 176, 93-101. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2007.12.032
[23] Simerl, N.A., Wilcox, C.J., Thatcher, W.W. and Martin, F.G. (1991) Prepartum and peripartum reproductive performance of dairy heifers freshening at young ages. Journal of Dairy Science, 74, 1724-1729. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(91)78335-5
[24] Shook, G.E. (2006) Major advances in determining appropriate selection goals. Journal of Dairy Science, 89, 1349-1361. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(06)72202-0
[25] Schneider, Mdel. P., Strandberg, E., Emanuelson, U., Grandinson, K. and Roth, A. (2007) The effect of veterinary-treated clinical mastitis and pregnancy status on culling in Swedish dairy cows. Preventative Veterinary Medicine, 80, 179-192. doi:10.1016/j.prevetmed.2007.02.006
[26] Wu, J., Brickell, J.S., Yang, L.G., Cheng, Z., Zhao, H.Q., Wathes, D.C. and Zhang, S.J. (2012) Reproductive performance and survival of Chinese Holstein dairy cows. Animal Production Science, 52, 11-19. doi:10.1071/AN11146
[27] Bach, A. (2011) Associations between several aspects of heifer development and dairy cow survivability to second lactation. Journal of Dairy Science, 94, 1052-1057. doi:10.3168/jds.2010-3633
[28] Donovan, G.A., Bennett, F.L. and Springer, F.S. (2003) Factors associated with first service conception in artificially inseminated nulliparous Holstein heifers. Theriogenology, 60, 67-75. doi:10.1016/S0093-691X(02)01296-7
[29] Kuhn, M.T., Hut-chison, J.L. and Wiggans, G.R. (2006) Characterization of Holstein heifer fertility in the United States. Journal of Dairy Science, 89, 4907-4920. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(06)72541-3
[30] Brickell, J.S., McGowan, M.M. and Wathes, D.C. (2009) Effect of management factors and blood metabolites during the rearing period on growth in dairy heifers on UK farms. Domestic Animal Endo-crinology, 36, 67-81. doi:10.1016/j.domaniend.2008.10.005
[31] Donovan, G.A., Dohoo, I.R., Montgomery, D.M. and Bennett, F.L. (1998) Calf and disease factors affecting growth in female Holstein calves in Florida, USA. Preventative Veterinary Medicine, 33, 1-10. doi:10.1016/S0167-5877(97)00059-7
[32] Coffey, M.P., Hickey, J. and Brotherstone, S. (2006) Genetic aspects of growth of Holstein-Friesian dairy cows from birth to maturity. Journal of Dairy Science, 89, 322-329. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(06)72097-5
[33] Wathes, D.C., Brickell, J.S., Bourne, N., Swali, A. and Cheng, Z. (2008) Factors influencing heifer survival and fertility on commercial dairy farms. Animal, 2, 1135-1143. doi:10.1017/S1751731108002322
[34] Thomson, J.R., Pollak, E.J. and Pelissier, C.L. (1983) Interrelationships of parturition problems, production of subsequent lactation, reproduction and age at first calving. Journal of Dairy Science, 66, 1119-1127. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(83)81909-2
[35] Johanson, J.M. and Berger, P.J. (2003) Birth weight as a predictor of calving ease and perinatal mortality in Holstein cattle. Journal of Dairy Science, 86, 3745-3755. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(03)73981-2
[36] Hansen, M. (2004) Quantitative genetic analysis of mortality in Danish Holstein calves. Ph.D. Thesis, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Copenhagen.
[37] Brickell, J.S., McGowan, M.M., Pfeiffer, D.U. and Wathes, D.C. (2009) Mortality in Holstein-Friesian calves and replacement heifers in relation to body weight and IGF-I concentration, on 19 farms in England. Animal, 3, 1175-1182. doi:10.1017/S175173110900456X
[38] Lin, C.Y., McAllister, A.J., Batra, T.R., Lee, A.J., Roy, G.L., Vesely, J.A., Wauthy, J.M. and Winter, K.A. (1988) Effects of early and late breeding of heifers on multiple lactation performance of dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science, 71, 2735-2743. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(88)79867-7
[39] Nilforooshan, M.A. and Edriss, M.A. (2004) Effect of age at first calving on some productivity and longevity traits in Iranian Holsteins of the Isfahan province. Journal of Dairy Science, 87, 2130-2135. doi:10.3168/jds.S0022-0302(04)70032-6
[40] Hultgren, J. and Svensson, C. (2009) Heifer rearing conditions affect length of productive life in Swedish dairy cows. Preventative Veterinary Medicine, 89, 255-264. doi:10.1016/j.prevetmed.2009.02.012

Copyright © 2024 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.