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.


Raising healthy replacement heifers must begin with a solid calf-raising program. A strong heifer- raising program must follow so that heifers are allowed to reach their full growth potential. Both time periods are critical to the optimal health and growth and efficient, lifetime productivity of a heifer.

The primary goal of any heifer- raising program should be to get the heifer in the milking string sooner. Adjustments made to a heifer-raising program have the potential to put more milk in the tank and put it in the tank sooner, thereby maximizing the economic benefits of a heifer program. Management decisions between the birth of the calf and the birth of her calf can have a positive impact on the net value realized over a heifer’s production life. The largest factors affecting a heifer’s economic value are the age she first conceived and her bodyweight and frame size at the time she freshens.

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As I travel the West visiting dairies, there is one thing I can say is true: Producers today are much more conscious about their colostrum management programs than in the past. Furthermore, they are always looking for ways to improve their programs. In this article, I will share with you the four most explored colostrum management systems used in the industry today.

Collect and freeze
The vast majority of Western dairies I visit are collect-and-freeze practitioners. Most farms follow a basic protocol, collecting colostrum from fresh cows (first lactation and higher), usually within 8 to 12 hours, on their regular hospital milking schedule. The colostrum is collected in stainless steel buckets in the parlor through the end of the milking period, which means more often than not, it’s held in the area for up to two hours. It then goes from the buckets into containers for storage.

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The management practices and nutritional aspects of your heifer-raising program are essential to the long-term success of your dairy operation. A sound nutrition program – coupled with successful management practices – determines at what age a heifer can enter the milking string and begin generating revenue for your operation. To better understand the importance of a high-quality heifer nutrition and management program for long-term success, we have asked three progressive producers and heifer raisers to share their insights on taking heifer rearing to the next level.

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Raising healthy replacement heifers takes time, commitment, skill and knowledge. Today’s dairy economy has put a great deal of pressure on the cost of raising heifers. Since replacement heifers produce no daily income until they hit the milking string, viewing heifers purely as cost instead of an investment can set up your dairy for disappointment. The future of your dairy’s profitability lies in the care of whoever has fed, doctored and worked with these females.

Whether heifers are raised on-farm or outsourced to custom-raisers, items of consideration for change usually fall within economics and management. Raising dairy females most economically – with the best nutrition – means nothing if their environment impedes growth, health and production. While nutrition costs make up a large portion of raising a replacement heifer, her health, labor and management make up the rest. The key is to focus on the areas that are most influential and make the most impact, and then evaluate if changes are needed.

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In many areas of the country it is currently costing between $1,400 to $1,500 to raise a dairy replacement heifer. The average annual culling per replacement rate for these same dairy herds is around 30 percent – almost one-third of the milking herd. Whether a dairy is milking 100 cows or 1,000 cows, herd replacement expenses represent a significant cost of doing business. Along with that, a first-calf heifer spends her first lactation paying for herself – not making you any money. The cost of replacements is typically second only to milk cow feed costs.

Sooner or later everything on the farm wears out – including the cows. That’s why an aggressively managed replacement program is so important to the profitability of your dairy. Culling cows from the herd along with attrition through mortality is one of those aspects of dairy farm management that we’d just as soon not have to deal with. We’d rather that the cows would go on milking for many more years than they do. Planning, implementing and managing a replacement program becomes every bit as important as the milking, feeding and reproduction management on your dairy.

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A new model for manipulating vitamin D levels in young calves has been developed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists who say it could help establish just how much of this important nutrient the young animals need to promote optimal growth and health.

Newborn dairy calves get crucial Vitamin D in the colostrum from their mothers as they nurse during the first few days after birth. Later, the neonatal calf often receives Vitamin D in commercial milk replacers. But levels of Vitamin D in these supplements may need to be re-evaluated, given recent evidence suggesting Vitamin D status influences not only bone growth, but also immune function.

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