Measurement is knowledge

It is difficult to assess calf growth when the animals are still young. The rate of growth is even more difficult to estimate during the period from the start through to the moment they are placed on grates,” confirmed Johan Verdaasdonk, young cattle ­specialist at Nutrifeed in The Netherlands.

An important measuring moment for calves is when they transfer to the grid floor, at the age of around four months. “A height measurement offers a reliable indication of the animal’s development, and is a good guideline for the ideal insemination moment,” suggested Verdaasdonk. “Our preference is a height measurement, because measuring chest size leads to more variation,” he explained. “If a heifer is scared, for example, it swells its chest. Our height graph is based on 10,000 historical measurements, making it far more reliable.” Verdaasdonk added one extra point, namely that when stood in straw, calves tend to stand slightly higher. “It can easily make a difference of 5 centimetres,” he suggested, adding that growth results are important. “If you do not achieve your growth target at the start, you will never catch up.” 

The growth of calves and heifers is an indicator of the quality of the rearing process

To get an idea of growth around weaning: measure the chest size 

“Measuring the chest size with a tape measure can give the farmer a good idea of the weight and growth rate. “As a rule of thumb, you can assume that around weaning time, the chest size of a calf will be around one metre,” suggested Johan, who also offered a useful tip to make measuring easier. “Take a length of bailing twine, and tie a knot in it at one metre. Using the twine to quickly measure the chest size will give you a good idea.”