In tight economic times, everything comes under the radar, and heifer care and growth has been no exception. We’ve written both about raising healthy heifers more quickly and managing heifer inventories before.
At the recent Leading Dairy Producers Conference in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., the University of Wisconsin’s Matt Akins laid down some guidelines for helping heifers achieve growth goals while keeping costs in mind. Specifically, he outlined when and how producers should monitor heifer growth.
In order to have good benchmarks for growth, farms must have a good idea of their mature cows’ size and weight. Particularly if a farm chooses to monitor growth by weight, an accurate weight should be taken of mature cows to use for comparison. These weights should be measured on cows in their third lactation or greater that are 100 to 200 days in milk.
Then, Akins shared it is possible to target weights for breeding (55 percent of mature weight), precalving (92 to 94 percent of mature weight), and postcalving (85 percent of mature weight).
Heifers should be measured first at birth. That enables a farm to monitor if the heifer has doubled its weight as is recommended by 8 weeks of age. Weigh the heifer next at 4 to 6 months of age to see how the transition to solid feeds went. Often this can be taken while administering vaccinations.
Next, measure weights at 12 to 13 months of age to ensure heifers are of optimal weight for breeding. Finally, heifers should be weighed before and/or after calving to make sure they are on target for mature weight and will not need to do too much growing during the lactation.
Akins advised producers utilize a scale if one is available. Otherwise, a weight tape can provide data, even if it isn’t as accurate. If a farm would like to track animals based on height, Akins said to measure at the hips rather than the withers.
“If you’re doing heights, I would not recommend measuring at the withers. It’s difficult to get consistent data because the animals’ height could change 2 to 3 inches depending on if its head is up or down or so forth,” Akins said.
“In the end, keep it simple when you’re doing these systems. Make sure to use the data. Don’t just gather it and let it sit there,” he concluded.