A cow’s productive life doesn’t just begin when it starts producing milk. From the time a cow is conceived, genetics and management are factoring into its growth and development to achieve strong production.
“Our nutrition program is aggressive during the first 90 days, and we push protein and energy prior to weaning,” explained Chris Terra who manages Red Top Jersey’s 5,700 cows. “As heifers get older and reach that breeding and pregnancy age, we back off on the carbs and maintain protein levels in the diet to maintain daily gains that produce a consistently larger heifer at a reasonable cost. I maintain that growth into freshening, and don’t want a fat heifer, but a heifer that has adequate flesh to prepare for transition and 3x milking.”
In order to do so, the California dairy farmer follows these targets: breed at 12 to 13 months; ADG (average daily gain) of 1.35 to 1.45 pounds through calving; 45 to 46 inches tall and 55 percent of mature weight at 12 months; and heifers that are 90 percent of mature weight at calving.
For the four dairies interviewed for the Round Table “They balance production and components,” heifers are the building blocks of their herds. Read more about these elite production herds in the February 10, 2019, issue of Hoard’s Dairyman on pages 79 to 81.
Here’s how the other three participants answered the question, “How do you raise heifers?”
Cinnamon Ridge Dairy, Donohue, Iowa: Our goal is to never let an animal have a bad day. We strive for an ideal environment, consistent feed, and a strong breeding program. Calves are raised in an in-floor heated, individual stall barn. At 3 months of age, they move to a drive-through freestall barn where they are housed until they reach the precalving period. We raise all of our heifers, and before calving we select 20 to 25 percent for the lactating herd. The rest are sold to other dairies before calving.
Gar-Lin Dairy LLC, Eyota, Minn.: Raising healthy and well-developed heifers is an integral part of our whole system. We work hard to manage animal flow so that heifer facilities are not overcrowded. We use both sexed semen and beef bulls to target a specific number of heifers born per month. We manage the heifers that are born by month of age and sell some when they are between 4 and 12 months old.
Heifers are raised on an automated feeder from 2 days of age to about 50 days of age when they are weaned. They are fed pasteurized milk and grouped in pens of 20 to 22 calves within a week of age. We track our success in heifers by watching average daily gains and health events. Once calves reach 5 months of age, they are moved to a heifer growing facility. Our heifer growers are an integral part of our team. We strive to calve heifers in at 22 to 23 months of age.
Sugar Creek Dairy, Elkhorn, Wis.: About five years ago, we brought our heifers back on-site rather than sending them to a heifer grower. We now have heifer facilities down the road from our farm. That was important to us because we want to be able to manage them at every stage and make sure they reach our growth goals of 2 pounds per day. We put a special focus on growth in the first year.
Calves are housed in hutches and individual pens. We work hard to provide good feed, clean water, a dry environment, and vaccinations as needed. Calves are moved into groups in super hutches a week after they are weaned and then into additional group pens as they age. Calves do not receive silage until they reach 9 to 10 months of age. Our average heifer reaches our growth goals and calves in by 22 to 23 months of age.
This Hoard’s Dairyman Intel article is part of a three-part series detailing how farms achieve high production and high components.
Click below to view previous articles from this Round Table series: