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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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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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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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Most calf deaths are attributed to infectious disease such as scours, septicemia, pneumonia. However, non-infectious problems cause most of the losses in the first two to three days, and these problems greatly increase the risk of later infectious disease problems, if they do not kill the calf right away. Management practices aimed at identifying and resolving these early problems are the most direct and cost-effective way to improve calf health.

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Imagine a dairy cow that gave 15,000 liters (33,000 pounds) of high-quality milk year after year after year at a high level of efficiency, a cow whose milk had health benefits for the consumer, a cow that got in calf when you wanted her to; a cow that was highly resistant to infections such as mastitis and whose milk had a consistently low somatic cell count, a cow that never suffered from acidosis and a cow that was never lame. Now imagine a herd of such cows, and imagine how profitable it would be.

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Editor’s note: The following benchmarks have been compiled using data reported by dairies enrolled in Alta’s AltaAdvantage program, a progeny testing program. More than 182,500 cows in 175 herds participate in the program nationwide.

The start of a long, profitable life for a cow is an easy, uneventful calving. Think of an easy, uneventful calving as the beginning of what I like to call the four-event cow. These cows have a calving, a breeding, a pregnancy check (where she is confirmed to the first breeding) and a dry off. No metabolic problems, no mastitis, no lameness, no hospital pen moves and only one breeding!

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