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Raising Replacements is a High Cost Item on a Dairy Operation.

Dairy Pipeline: November 1995

by Tom L. Bailey
Dairy Production Medicine, VA-MD Regional College of Vet Medicine

In fact, replacement rearing is the third largest expense behind feed cost and labor. This often overlooked enterprise on the dairy can comprise 15% to 20% of the total dairy expenditures. Studies have shown that the average cost of raising a replacement heifer to 24 months of age can range from $800.00 to $1300.00. In many dairy herds, replacement heifer age to first calving is 30 months. In fact, records from the Raleigh DHIA center indicates an average age at first calving to be greater than 28 months. Most economists, with financial records, have consistently shown an added cost in feed, labor, housing, etc. of $45.00 to $50.00 per month for every month over 24 months of age. If a dairy is calving 50 heifers per year at 28 months of age, this would be an additional expense incurred by this dairy of approximately $10,000 per year. In addition to the added cost per heifer, more heifers are needed in the replacement pool to meet the desired culling rate in a given herd. In a 100 cow herd, with a culling rate of 33% a year, approximately 76 total heifers (baby calves to calving heifers) are needed to supply adequate culling pressure on the lactating herd. For every month over 24 months of age at calving, an additional 4.2% is needed in the replacement pool. With our herd calving at 28 months of age, we would require 16.8% more heifers or approximately 90 heifers raised on this operation to meet our culling requirements. This is 14 more heifers at $1200 each to fulfill our requirements for culling and an additional expense of $16,800. The real problem herds are ones calving heifers at 30 months of age and a calving interval of greater than 14 months. These herds can not supply enough replacement heifers on an annual basis to adequately cull in their operations without the purchase of additional heifers. Our goal is to calve heifers at 24 months of age, weighing 1300 to 1350 pounds pre calving, with a body condition score of 3.5, and a height of 55 inches. Producers can achieve these goals by monitoring heifers through growth periods and strategically feeding heifers to meet the demands of the specific growing phases of heifer development. Heifers should be weighed, height measured, and body condition scored periodically to determine if we are meeting these goals. We monitor milk weights, fat and protein, reproductive parameters, and somatic cell counts, etc., why not monitor and measure how well we are developing heifers. This area is a high cost item, certainly more time is warranted in the area of heifer development. Remember, you can't change the heifer once she lies down to calve, but we can change the heifer by focusing on the growing periods and development.

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