“Age at calving and herd replacement rates are the largest factors influencing heifer costs,” shared Jud Heinrichs, Penn State extension specialist. “This affects the numbers of heifers that must be raised to maintain a profitable milking herd size.
In a recent Penn State extension article, Heinrichs explained that a farm with a 30-month age at first calving could require twice as many replacement heifers as a farm with a 22-month age at calving. That means more of a dairy’s dollars and resources are being dedicated to heifer development. He suggested setting a goal of 22 to 24 months for age at first calving.
If that target range is achieved, Heinrichs calculated that the average cost per heifer per day would be $1.60 or 86 cents per pound gained. Those values certainly can vary greatly, depending on a farm’s management style, labor costs, and feeding strategy.
“There are some aspects of calf and heifer raising that can be more efficient than others,” said the calf and heifer specialist. “Many farms can benefit by reducing some cost components in their replacement program without a reduction in heifer quality.”
He recommended six areas for consideration that might increase initial costs but improve overall development and efficiency.
- Feed a lower cost source of liquid feed to young calves. This could mean feeding waste milk, as long as it is handled correctly so as to avoid disease risk.
- Feed high-quality and palatable concentrates to younger animals. The decision to invest in these can kickstart dry matter intake and growth.
- Analyze forages and run ration formulations for all major groups. It is important to understand the quality of forage to correctly match forages with requirements of different aged heifers.
- Monitor group size and age/weight variation within groups. Heinrichs considers this vital for meeting heifers’ nutrient needs and avoiding over- or underconsumption.
- Use proven feed additives to improve growth and feed efficiency. These carry favorable cost/benefit ratios for improving growth and controlling disease.
- Keep weight gains steady. He recommended 1.8 pounds per day before 9 months of age and 2-plus pounds per day after 9 months of age.