Avoid These Heifer-Rearing Bottlenecks

April 28, 2013 09:25 PM

Four areas where you can make improvements.

Boomer Gene 1023 11 croppedBy Dr. Gene Boomer, Manager, Field Technical Services, Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition

The dairy industry currently faces higher feed costs, yardage costs, land values, cull cow values, sexed semen technology, dairy heifer inventory and beef prices. There is also a shortage of feeder replacements and the fact that you can usually purchase a springing heifer for $200–$400 less than actual rearing costs. Therefore, dairy producers must focus more on their heifer business enterprise because today’s economy does not automatically give every heifer a lactation career opportunity.

The industry needs to shift to recording and monitoring early life indicators like birth weights, passive transfer, average daily gains to 70 and 150 days of age and disease events.

These parameters have impact on several key areas of heifer nutritional management, especially the first 100 days of age. This timeframe is critical to help determine whether heifers earn their lactation careers.

The following four bottlenecks or phases of heifer development offer opportunities for dairy producers and heifer raisers to enhance heifer-rearing programs:

1. Colostrum Management. Harvesting and delivering an adequate volume of clean, high-quality colostrum in a timely manner must be the foundation of all successful dairy heifer development programs. It’s essential that 4 quarts of colostrum (Holsteins) is delivered quickly after the calf’s birth. Also ensure that proper sanitation occurs during colostrum harvest.

2. Ramp up milk intake (energy and protein) during week one. A calf needs more energy than 2 quarts of milk replacer twice a day will provide. From day two to day seven, consider feeding 3 quarts of milk replacer twice a day or 2.5 quarts three times per day.

3. Weaning. Wean calves when they consume 2.5 to 3 lbs. of a quality starter feed daily. Make sure free-choice water is available and consider leaving calves in individual hutches for a week after weaning, or until they consume 8 lbs. of starter grain, to help them to adjust to the change.

4. Lag phase. This is the period from about week nine to week 17 and includes the time when calves are transferred to group pens and introduced to forages. Avoid group housing until heifers consume 8 lbs. of starter grain daily, and wait to introduce hay to the diet until they have been in group pens for a week. Also wait to introduce corn silage or haylage until these animals are five months of age. Transition to a grower grain mix.

These points are not weak links on every farm, but they offer a good review to see where improvements can be made. An additional four bottlenecks will be discussed next month.

Meanwhile, remember that more intensive management systems that correct these bottlenecks are worth the effort and extra cost of inputs and labor through a reduction in veterinary and medicine bills and lower death losses. Click here to learn more about these heifer development bottlenecks and how to manage them on your operation.

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