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Raise healthy, productive replacements

Dairy Calf & Heifer Association Published on 29 August 2012

Dairy heifers have a lot riding on their shoulders. They may not be competing in the Olympics but, like an athlete, they must prepare and perform at their best or they won’t go home a winner.

Your role in preparing heifers to perform at their best is crucial. According to industry standards established by the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association (DCHA) in its Gold Standards II, Holstein heifers should achieve an average daily gain of at least 1.7 to 2.0 pounds. To do this, you must feed post-weaned dairy heifers properly, which includes feeding sufficient levels of energy and protein.

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The Gold Standards recommend the following goals for total ration protein content:
• 15 to 16 percent for Holstein heifers 6 to 9 months old
• 14 to 15 percent for Holstein heifers 9 to 13 months old
• 13.5 to 14 percent for Holstein heifers 13 months old to freshening

Optimum feedbunk management also helps you prepare post-weaned heifers to become healthy, productive members of the herd.

A first step toward this goal is to establish good bunk management practices, including:
• Delivering feed consistently to keep heifers’ hunger levels steady.
• Keeping feed fresh and avoiding the feeding of moldy feeds.
• Providing access to a clean, good-quality and temperate water supply.
• Minimizing feed shrink due to overfeeding or feed loss at the bunk.
• Giving heifers feeding space that allows all animals to eat at once.

The Gold Standards II recommend you provide the following target feeding space guidelines based on animal age:
• 18 inches bunk space per head for 6-month-old to 12-month-old heifers
• 20 inches bunk space per head for 12-month-old to 18-month-old heifers
• 24 inches bunk space per head for heifers 18 months old to freshening
• 30 inches bunk space per head for pre-fresh heifers (three weeks prior to calving)

Good bunk design and management is important for helping heifers reach performance goals, but you won’t know how heifers are doing unless you implement a system that monitors performance.

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Jack Banker, first vice president of DCHA, tracks heifer growth and performance by regularly weighing animals on his Black Creek, Wisconsin, heifer operation.

Like other dairy heifer raisers, Banker and his family set high standards for heifer nutrition and feeding on their operation. Recently, they made changes in the operation’s management program to help them better track heifer rate of gain and meet industry benchmarks.

Banker says they weigh animals upon arrival at the farm and prior to their return trip home. In between these events, they weigh heifers each time a dietary change occurs. The reason for doing this is two-fold: to make sure heifers are achieving target rates of gain at each stage of development and so that heifers return to the home farm at an age and weight specified by the dairy owners.

The changes made by the Bankers include tweaks in ration formulation and increased dietary protein content to support a higher rate of gain. The changes mean they must fit an additional weigh check into their heifer management program, but they also provide assurance that heifers are gaining at a rate that gets them ready for breeding and calving.

DCHA Gold Standards suggest routine weigh-ins. These should occur at least every three months.

Work with your nutritionist to set and monitor target goals for heifer production and performance so that Holstein heifers achieve the following benchmarks by 13 to 15 months old:
• Weight of 825 to 900 pounds
• Hip height of greater than 50 inches
• Wither height of greater than 48 inches (or equivalent to 55 percent of the weight of mature cows in the herd)

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Meeting the above goals puts heifers in a position to reach a target weight of 1,350 pounds (or 85 percent of the weight of full-term, pregnant, mature cows in the herd) immediately pre-calving and a target body condition score at freshening of 3.5 (on a five-point scale). PD

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