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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.

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Replacements are an investment in the future of a dairy, and they are significant, often representing 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of milk production, which is second only to dairy feed costs. The likelihood of a positive payoff on those investments is dramatically improved when the management team has a system in place that generates quality heifers.

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The investment in proper heifer care is not an overnight return. Almost two years of feeding and care goes into heifers before they start producing milk. That’s why getting heifers into the milking string sooner while ensuring proper health is so critical.

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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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