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Calves & Heifers

The future of your herd depends on quality colostrum, milk or replacer feeding and disease control along with proper bedding, sanitation and ventilation.

LATEST

We believe most dairy producers have become increasingly aware of the importance of replacement heifer health. Not only can disease episodes become a major financial problem, but these animals represent the future producing herd. Calves that require treatment for disease tend to be less productive in the long run, and production efficiency is negatively impacted if heifers fail to grow and begin milk production by 2 years old.

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The birth of a heifer calf on a dairy operation represents the beginning of the next generation. Most of the time, these calves have the best genetics of all animals in an operation. Unfortunately, the time around birth is when calves are at the greatest risk of dying. In addition, this period is the time dams will frequently experience health problems as well. Difficulty calving, commonly referred to as dystocia, usually increases the risk of problems, including death, for both the calf and dam.

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Research on dairy calves is paving the way for methods of managing and housing these animals that will facilitate calf care and improve living conditions for these young animals. In this [article], I will review research from three areas I think are important:

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Efficient heifer growth that leads to bigger heifers at an earlier age can maximize profitability on your dairy operation. The key is making sure your heifers don’t just gain weight, but achieve their genetic potential for ideal height, weight and girth so they reach breeding age earlier and enter the milking string sooner. This leads to substantial profit potential in a variety of ways.

Most progressive dairy producers already strive to calve heifers between 22 and 24 months to pay back heifer rearing costs earlier. The economics explain why.

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The goals of a dairy replacement management program are to rear heifers at a low economic and environmental cost without compromising future lactation performance. To meet these objectives, bred heifers are commonly fed diets containing low-cost, high-fiber forages which meet the low energy requirement of bred replacement heifers. Feeding bred heifers low-energy, high-fiber forages also helps minimize overconditioning at calving, which can be detrimental to lactation performance.

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Raising replacement heifers is often looked upon as a major cost on the farm without a return on the investment until the animal begins its first lactation. As a result, heifers are often fed the cheapest feed available with minimum inputs on facilities and labor until they approach the time of calving. Efforts to improve management and nutrition of the dairy replacement heifer, in order to decrease the age at first calving, have been labeled as an “accelerated heifer growth program.”

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