Managing dairy heifer calves is right up there with dairy farm finances in my book. There is no future dairy business without either one of them.
The best “problem” a dairy can have with their replacement heifer program is to have too many of them. It really is a problem: do a good job rearing calves and heifers and pretty soon you have lots and lots of heifers!
Solutions. Great problem, a couple solutions. Options include selling calves, selling springers, finding more housing, contracting out heifers to be grown elsewhere, milking more heifers or hiring a bad calf feeder so you won’t continue to have too many heifers.
That last option is a bad idea, although it wouldn’t be hard to do! The 2002 National Animal Health Monitoring Survey reported a number that I find completely baffling.
Of the herds surveyed across the country, on average nearly 9 percent of heifer calves died between birth and weaning. Another 2 percent died between weaning and freshening.
Only calves born alive are included in the first group. For the second group (weaning to freshening) these are deaths, not nonbreeders who are culled. Is it bad to be average?
Do the math. Think about it. If you are raising 100 heifer calves a year and you are “average”, you bury 10 or 11 animals. If you are one of the best, on a bad year you lose 1 or 2.
The “best” grower has at least eight more animals a year. Sell them at 2 days old for $500 each and suddenly there is $4,000 more cash to go around. Keep them and milk them, still more cash to go around.
How do you get to 2 percent or less death loss? It is very possible to achieve 2 percent or less death loss. I prefer zero myself.
Factors. Critical factors include: knowledgeable and conscientious calf and heifer feeders, care in the prefresh and calving process, decent facilities, appropriate nutrition and a healthy herd.
Lots of good, good information is out there to help folks learn more about or continue to learn about raising calves and heifers.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the resources out there:
OSU Heifer Reference
No need to rewrite information that is already our there. This collection of resources was gathered with the intention of finding the best information out there and getting it in one place.
A phone call to 330-263-3799 (my office) plus $20 and postage will bring this handy reference right to your mailbox.
For those with access to the Internet, a ream or two of paper and some time, there are two additional places to go:
Penn State’s “Feeding the Newborn Calf”
An excellent reference downloadable at www.das.psu.edu/dcn/CALFMGT/pdf/feednewborn.pdf. Check out a variety of other Penn State resources at www.das.psu.edu/dcn/CALFMGT.
At www.calfnotes.com, former university researcher Jim Quigley has continued a series of fact sheets after moving to an industry research position. Kudos to both Jim and Diamond V for sponsoring the work.
At “Calf Notes”, more than 100 fact sheets are posted covering the broad categories of Colostrum feeding, milk and milk replacer, calf starters, health management, weaning, housing and older heifers.
Some fact sheets are available in Spanish and Portugese translations.
Set goals. Setting goals is critical to achieving success in any endeavor. Set a goal to be the best in replacement heifer production.
We know how to do it. I believe that anyone who truly wants to do a good job can do it well. Resources are literally at your fingertips. Go for zero.