Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

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.


This article was featured as one of our most popular calf and heifer raising articles. to jump to the article below.

Why is this 2010 article about the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin's Calf Care Connection workshops trending as a popular article?

We think it's because of the wet lab videos featured in it. Penn State's Dr. Jud Heinrichs presented examples of rumens from calves fed with different diets, each displaying different characteristics. Dr. Simon Peek of the University of Wisconsin – Madison shared tips and proper placement of pull chains for calving assistance. Each of these videos have received more than 1,000 views.

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An analysis was made from 993 individual calves used in 20 trials published in two U.S. peer-reviewed journals. Results of this analysis were presented at the Joint Annual Meetings of ADSA and ASAS, held recently in Denver, Colorado.

Each trial used Holstein calves that were initially 2 to 3 days old and on trial for eight weeks. All calves in these trials were housed and cared for individually in an unheated nursery in Ohio.

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Feeding calves to their potential is critical during the first 60 days. Research has shown that the nutrition a calf receives during its first 60 days of life has a lasting impact by affecting both her age at first calving as well as her first-lactation performance. An automatic calf feeder can be a great way to feed calves the nutrition they need to grow and perform to their full potential while providing the proper management and observation needed to raise a healthy herd.

Because of increasing interest and use of automatic calf feeders on farms across the country, we purchased our own automatic calf feeding unit two- and-a-half years ago for the purpose of testing the usability and effectiveness of automatic calf feeders.

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When I first feed water to my calves, they drink the water and then won’t drink their milk.
This is a very common observation. Some farms do not feed water to calves until they are several weeks old or even older. Then, when water is introduced, there is a tendency for them to drink lots of water. This is accompanied by lack of interest in milk at the next feeding. This is interpreted as support for not feeding water to young calves. “See, I told you so. If I feed water to young calves, they will not drink their milk.”

Actually, if water is offered from day two, it is not a novelty to the calf and gorging on water is rare. I admit it is extra work to provide fresh water at least daily for young calves. Then, it’s a bit frustrating when most of them drink such a small volume – often as little as only a cupful daily.

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The statement “youth are the future of the dairy industry” is often used when referring to our future dairy producers. However, this statement is also very true as it relates to the youngstock, as replacement heifers are the future of the dairy herd. The future profitability of the dairy herd relies on a good supply of well-grown, genetically superior heifers to replace the market cows or to expand the current milking herd. Considerable time and cost is required to develop quality heifers from birth to first calving.

The trend of increasing number of cows per farm has prompted many producers to examine the need to provide more labor for the milking herd. This may mean additional work hours per day, increased labor force to handle the extra workload or perhaps recognizing that a custom grower would be able to take over the heifer-raising responsibility. In some instances, a custom grower may be able to raise healthier heifers in a more cost-effective manner. A successful custom heifer-raising arrangement can free up the dairy herd owner to concentrate on other management and labor needs with the milking herd.

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Most farmers thinking about consistency of performance have focused on the milking herd. How consistent is the milking process? How consistent is the dry cow management program? How consistent is the feed preparation process?

What about the heifer program? Is it consistent for developing heifers to calve at an appropriate age? On many farms, heifers are probably the most frequently ignored part of the dairy operation. This is one reason more and more dairies have been turning to custom heifer raisers where someone else will devote specific attention to heifer management. Consistent management practices are very important in developing a high- quality heifer for the future milking string.

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