How to Overcome Heifer-Rearing Bottlenecks (Part II)

May 26, 2013 11:09 PM

Opportunities for dairy producers and heifer raisers to enhance heifer-rearing programs.

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

Note: This is the second in a series of articles that addresses eight bottlenecks or phases of heifer development that offer opportunities for dairy producers and heifer raisers to enhance heifer-rearing programs.

Last month, we discussed four key heifer-rearing bottlenecks that hamper animals and operations from reaching their full potential. Following are four additional areas that often offer management challenges to dairies and negatively impact animal performance and farm profitability—and recommendations to overcome these issues.

1. Transfer to grower ration. By about 15 to 16 weeks of age, heifers should be receiving a quality grower grain mix that’s been carefully formulated to deliver correct amounts of a coccidiostat, energy, protein and a vitamin\trace mineral mix to supplement varying amounts and quality of forages. The percentage of dietary forages may be increased now, too. Also capture body weight data at five months of age. This information helps to make better ration decisions and make early culling decisions. Under current marketing conditions, this is a good opportunity to allow your underperforming heifers to make a future career change.

2. Move to breeding pens based on size. Base movement on accurate hip height and body weight measurements. Use age as a secondary parameter. Holsteins should be 51 – 52 inches at the hip when entering the breeding pen. A well-managed Holstein heifer development program will have more than 90% of the animals at an adequate size to breed between 10 – 14 months of age. Record movement to the breeding pen so that 21-day pregnancy rates and insemination risks are calculated correctly. Don’t wait too long to initiate breeding, as that results in wasted days on feed and often, over-conditioned heifers.

3. Move to close-up pens on time. The most common mistake is not putting springing heifers on the close-up diet for more than 21 days before calving. Move heifers to the close-up pen before they reach 250 days carried calf.• The key numbers to monitor are days in close up pen and dry matter intake.
• Monitor variation as well as averages.
• Days in close-up pen should be greater than 21 and the average dry matter intake for Holstein heifers more than 24 pounds.

The second most common mistake is not feeding the rumen microbes to provide ~1200 grams metabolizable protein.

4. Practice proper animal husbandry. Animal comfort and welfare, or animal husbandry, must begin on the day a calf is born and continue throughout her lifetime. In today’s society, consumers want the ideal. If you say you are doing it, you had better be able to prove it. Leadership is about taking your operation to where it needs to be. Therefore, protocols must be in place for housing, feeding, breeding, moving and handling and treating all ages of livestock on the farm. Protocols must be in writing and training programs must be documented. Include written consequences for individuals who do not follow protocols.

As we’ve noted before, 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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