High feed prices inflate heifer budgets
High corn, protein and forage prices have sent feed prices for milking rations through the roof.
Often forgotten, however, is the impact higher feed prices have on heifer-raising budgets. Feed costs typically make up 60% of heifer-raising costs, with higher feed prices pushing total costs to more than $1,800 per heifer entering the milking string, says Jud Heinrichs, heifer-raising expert at Penn State University.
A 2011 survey of 45 Pennsylvania dairy farms showed average costs were $1,808 per heifer, and that was before the huge run-up in corn, protein and forage costs. Heifer average age at freshening was almost 25 months.
"Labor costs are the second highest expense in raising a heifer—around 13% of the total cost," he says.
Overall, heifer-raising accounts for 15% to 20% of a dairy farm budget.
There are two factors that have a huge impact on heifer-raising costs: Age at calving and the herd’s overall cull rate. "When age at calving increases, so does the need for heifer housing, feed, labor and management," he explains. "This increase in input variables can be as much as 50% in extreme situations."
For example, a farm that has a 26% herd turnover rate and an average age at calving will need just 53 heifers per 100 cows to maintain herd size. But if the herd turnover rate is 38% and age at calving is 30 months, the farm needs to maintain a heifer herd of 106.
Even a herd with a more typical 34% turnover rate and age of calving of 25 months will likely need 80 heifers, 50% more than a herd with low turnover and heifers calving at 22 months.
"The costs to raise these extra heifers can be tremendous and make a major difference in the profit potential of the farm," Heinrichs says.
To reduce heifer-raising costs, Heinrichs recommends:
- Wean calves by six weeks of age, and watch liquid feed costs. Birth to weaning is the most expensive feed cost period.
- Feed your high quality, palatable concentrates to younger animals.
- Balance rations based on forage analysis for all major heifer groups.
- Monitor growth regularly so you know which heifers are growing properly. Breed as soon as heifers reach the appropriate size.
- Monitor group size, as well as age and weight variation within groups.
- Use proven feed additives to improve growth and feed efficiency.
- Keep weight gains steady at 1.8 lb. per day before nine months of age. After that, gains should be more than 2 lb. per day to reach 85% of herd mature body weight one week after calving.