How your team can plan ahead to meet heifers' specific needs

Healthy heifers are the future of your herd, so it's time well spent to assess your heifer management strategies and put health plans in place for the new season.

Heifers' health needs are specific to their age and the farm on which they're grazing. If they move farms during their first two years of life, their stress levels increase and they become susceptible to disease, so they need a health plan that adapts with their movement.

If you're establishing a relationship with a grazier, it's important to minimise risks by developing an animal health plan and ensuring everyone involved understands their role in monitoring the animals and administering treatments.

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There are five key components to a good heifer health plan:

Biosecurity

It's important to understand stock movements on your property and the potential disease exposure for your heifers. Immature animals are particularly susceptible and may be naïve to several diseases.

Vaccinations

Legally, stock owners are required to manage both tuberculosis and leptospirosis. Other diseases can be prevented by vaccination.

Discuss with your grazier any diseases that have occurred on the property and make a plan with your veterinarian to give your heifers the best protection.

Parasites

Be aware of common parasites in your area, and find out what can be done to reduce any parasitic pressure.

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This could include farm management practices, such as using crops, as well as having drenches available.

Trace elements

The most common trace element deficiencies in New Zealand livestock are cobalt, selenium, copper and iodine. As a heifer's rumen develops, its uptake efficiency of trace elements from pasture changes.

Understand any deficiencies on the property to ensure your mineral supplementation will meet heifers' needs.

Farm-specific

Mob-specific animal health plans should be agreed on with the grazing manager.

Understand the farm's history, and disease look for in the livestock and how to treat them if any issues arise — for example, theileria and facial eczema.

Finally, when you're discussing an animal health plan, it's important to reflect on previous experiences:

• How effective was last season's health plan and do you need to make changes?
• What's changed or are there new risks?

Keep learning at dairynz.co.nz/heifer-health
Vanessa Robinson is a DairyNZ developer