Like babies, calves demand a considerable amount of time, energy and individualized attention. Once they hit weaning age, the honeymoon is often over, and most farms take a more low-maintenance approach to raising heifers from that point forward.
While heifers are more self-sufficient, there is still a need to focus on the individuals.
"Heifers are like teenagers," said Noah Litherland, a dairy young stock technical specialist with Vita Plus. "They still require some management and love."
At a University of Wisconsin-Extension Calf Management Seminar, Litherland reminded the audience that a cow's overall productive life is dependent upon a successful foundation. "That udder is already developing at 1 to 2 days of age," he explained.
Often, it is the period right after weaning that is most stressful for heifers. Litherland highlighted five steps to ease the transition:
Balanced nutrition during the nursing stage
Healthy heifers are the result of healthy, well-fed calves. Beyond milk or milk replacer, fresh, palatable starter needs to be provided to aid rumen development. Calves should be consuming starter by 2 weeks of age and eating a minimum of 5 pounds per day by weaning, Litherland said.
Minimize the additive effects of stressors
Common practices such as dehorning, tail docking, vaccinating, transporting and regrouping can all cause stress. When possible, spread these events out to minimize their impact.
Provide adequate resources
Heifers need access to feed, water, fresh air and resting space to stay healthy and grow.
Manage for consistency
Like cows, heifers perform best when their routine remains fairly regular from day to day.
Manage as individuals
Even though heifers are old enough to wean, make sure they are ready to graduate to the next level. Evaluate a heifer's size, starter intake and overall health before weaning. And once heifers are housed in a group, still keep an eye on each animal. As Litherland pointed out, the teenagers in our herd may not need constant attention, but they still need love and individualized care.
(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2015
September 14, 2015