To do the best job possible at growing heifers, farmers need to track growth, monitor body condition scores, and consider industry benchmarking.
“Assessing growth in your heifers is a really important aspect of dairy management, and body condition scoring is a very cheap and relatively easy way to monitor that growth,” said Carly Becker, extension educator, in Penn State’s “Dairy Heifer Growth” webinar. “It can help producers assess and identify issues that are actually preventing those heifers from reaching their key performance measures.”
Becker suggests using a five-point body condition scoring (BCS) system to score heifers, which is a visual assessment of fat reserves (Figure 1). She emphasized that it’s subjective, so to make it more reliable, it’s useful to use the same person to make the assessment.
Measuring weight and height
While some farms may use calf carts, scales, or squeeze chutes to monitor calf growth, not all farms have these tools. A simple way to estimate growth is to use a heifer weigh tape, which measures from 80 to 177 pounds on one side, while the opposite side allows for height measurement.
Another method for measuring height is to use a height stick, or to use something as simple as attaching measuring tape to a post that heifers walk past.
“You’re going to be able to get a good, solid measurement on them as far as height-wise . . . something for you to go by if you use for the customizable heifer charts,” said Cassie Yost, dairy extension educator with Penn State Extension.
Customizable growth charts
Once you have the body weight and hip height data, Penn State Extension provides customizable growth charts for your herd. (Figure 2).
The charts let farmers input their own data, including birth date, weight, and goals, that populate reports to help see where a herd is falling in relation to an ideal.
“Are you hitting your goal? Are your heifers not growing fast enough, or are you maybe pushing them a little too hard?” Yost asked.
“It’s a very handy tool that you can put your own form information in and get a better idea if your calves and heifers are meeting their goals or not,” she concluded.