Growers detail array of heifer methods

AKRON – What is the perfect way to start a dairy replacement heifer on her path toward productive producer?



Four producers outlined their operations during a panel discussion at the northeast regional meeting of the Professional Dairy Heifers Growers Association in Akron last week.



They ranged from Agway’s new Pennsylvania facility, which will eventually house 2,000 heifers taken from source farms at three days of age, to a growing operation operating out of the existing barn at a former dairy farm.



The second is the contracted grower of replacement heifers for one large producer. Heifers do not arrive there until they are four months of age.



The other two featured producers were large-scale heifer raising operations that buy and sell their stock. One has just begun some custom contract replacement heifer activity.



According to facility manager Dr. Scott Davenport, the Pennsylvania Agway facility is the newest of four custom heifer raising operations the cooperative now operates, known as the Agway TSPF Heifer Service.



The attention to maximum health status of the heifers, Davenport said, begins with testing of dry cows for Johnes disease and leukosis, and requires maternity pen and colostrum management at the source farms.



Every detail has been considered, including the fact that the wet-calf facilities are located upwind from other barns so that no organisms can be transferred from mature calves and heifers to the more susceptible wet calves.



The facility has protocols for vaccination, for veterinary treatment, for biosecurity, for feeding, and for nutrition.



The manure handling facilities for young and older animals are completely separate. The facility is closed, with no visitors and no vehicles allowed on site. Water is chlorinated.



In the intake facility, calves are first put into a footbath, and then transported on calf carts so that their feet never touch the ground.



In the natural ventilation barns, Davenport said pen sizes and stall sizes are appropriate to the ages they will house. Bunk space is built to requirements.



“Raising heifers is what we do,” Davenport said. “Our employees are animal caretakers, and we provide them with the training and tools necessary to accomplish our goal of a healthy, well-grown heifer.”



James Orr of Orrson Farms in Apple Creek, Ohio, created a heifer operation on his grandfather’s former dairy farm when an expanding producer sought a heifer raiser for the replacement heifers from his herd of 1,100. Orr is using a barn that was already there, and has built no specialized new facilities.



Orr has been in operation less than a year, and now has about 500 heifers on the farm, although the plan is that he will be responsible for about 600.



He had raised some springers, he said, and had a summer of experience with heifer raising in an abortive attempt to take in 40 head for a local farmer. “It was a good learning experience,” he said.



So far, he said he has had little problem. He did change nutritionists to use the dairy’s nutritionist.



Orrson Farms, which is the area’s largest heifer raising operation, was one of the four operations that were included on the conference’s farm tours.



Two other large scale facilities were also described.



Bill Baskin, who started in the springer heifer business in 1982 on the family farm in Batavia, N.Y., described his cattle feeding operation with 5,000 head located on four farms. Of the total, 4,000 are dairy feeders and heifers. He maintains 28 semi-trailer trucks to haul in 40,000 tons of bakery waste and 16,000 tons of vegetable waste that is the base for feedstock.



Baskin said he will sell cattle at any age, but that his dairy heifers tend to stay about 120 days. The springer heifers are sold across the country sight unseen because customers can depend on him for well-fed cattle with a good vaccination program behind them.



CattleLink Corp. Dr. Jan C. Gawthorp is an Indiana veterinarian who first became a calf specialist, and then began buying and raising calves himself in 1997. He has recently added custom calf raising to his services.



Gawthorp gets his calves at from 2 to 9 days of age. He gets them both from farms, where he knows their background and history, and from sale barns, where the only thing he knows about them is that they look like a calf.



“The key,” he said, “is not where a calf come from, but whether or not they remain healthy.”



He has contracted with nine area farms where the wet calves are raised, with a week’s collection of young calves placed in a single facility. The calves from three different farms eventually are moved into a single feeder operation.



His emphasis, he said, is on isolation and sanitation. The nursery farms keep the calves isolated from each other and from the older animals. Between groups, the barns are power sprayed, disinfected, and given at least a week to dry out.



“The more sunlight and the more time, the better,” he said.

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