Heifer growers meeting elicits big interest


AKRON – Is CalfCorp, Calf Place, or The Calf Lot the most potentially attention-grabbing name for a replacement heifer raising business?

How about Calves-to-Cows, Cow Makers, Heifer Mart, Heifer Ward, Here-4-Heifers, or Ladies in Waiting?

John Foley, dairy technology deployment manager for Cargill Animal Nutrition, was throwing out possible names “just for fun” when he talked to the northeast regional conference of Professional Dairy Heifers Growers Association in Akron last week, but his intent was quite straightforward.

In an emerging industry like dairy heifer growing, where need is strong, opportunity is great, and the number of practitioners is still small, business planning and brand recognition is important, Foley stressed.

Foley was keynote speaker for the regional meeting, which took place Oct. 31-Nov. 2.

His talk on “Starting as a Heifer Grower,” concentrated on the business plan and on selling a “brand.”

Any business has a brand, he said. It is created out of the “sum of perceptions and impressions” held by customers as a result of their experiences with the business.”Your business is a brand, whether you want it to be or not,” he said. “You have the choice of allowing your brand image to be determined by chance or you can manage your brand image so you have some input in the direction it takes.”

Part of the brand image, he stressed, is a unique name that captures the imagination of people, avoids possible negative connotations, and sets up a premise for communicating with the business.

Why do dairy producers need specialized heifer growers? Foley asked.

Because they need to focus on producing milk, because environmental and biosecurity concerns suggest heifers should be raised apart from the cows, because economies of scale can come into play when a raiser takes the calves from several dairies and, finally, Foley said, “because many dairies don’t do a very good job of raising heifers.”

“Lactating cows get priority status, and heifers take a back seat.”

But he also emphasized that it is a tough business that has not received universal acceptance among dairy producers. It requires expertise as well a strong business planning, and there are no benchmarks of successful heifer growing to assist a start-up operation. Profit margins, Foley added, are generally small.

Dairy heifer growing is a relatively new industry that is generating an intense amount of interest. The national PDHGA has existed only since 1998.

The more than 160 people who attended the regional conference included a range of growers from small dairy farm start-up operations raising 40 to 50 animals for one producer, to large commercial heifer growing operations with more than 1,000 replacement animals.

The conference also attracted a fair number of potential professional raisers, dairy producers who have not yet taken the step, but who are looking for another approach to dairying.

One perspective grower from southwestern Pennsylvania who milks 40 cows, said some of his neighbors are expanding their herds to 200 and 300 milking cows, but he isn’t interested.

“I guess in this economy we’ll all have to specialize,” he said. “Some of us will be the producers, and others will be the replacement heifer growers.”

The conference program was an indication of how much there is to know.

The speakers for the conference program were predominately veterinarians, experts who talked about various potential problems that can make any animal raising operation less successful.

Talks emphasized what a grower should know about transportation stress; Johnes disease and how to protect against it; biosecurity measures; vaccination programs and which vaccines are necessary and when; and parasitology.Dr. Ann Wilkerson, dairy technical services veterinarian for the East Coast for Pfizer Animal Health, talked about health scoring as a quick and simple method of keeping track of animal health and of which factors in an animal-raising operation need to be addressed.

A grower can use a standardized method of assessing each group of animals, in much the same way that body scoring is done, she said.

When they have a checklist for making a quick assessment of each group of animals, using the same criteria each time, then all chance of bias in making a general assessments will be removed.

Growers will then be able to generate standardized data for the operation. They will have a better chance of knowing where their problems are and what changes need to be made.

The conference also covered contracts and what needs to be covered in the contract between the grower and the producer. Another session covered facility options that growers might consider to meet the particular needs of raising calves and heifers.

Between presentations, growers could talk informally with various dairy experts, extension specialists, and industry participants and exhibitors.

Participants in the conference came primarily from Ohio and Pennsylvania, but also from as far away as Indiana, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Michigan.

Related link: www.pdhga.org


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