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Expense of Rearing Replacement Heifers

Dairy Pipeline: January 1999

Tom L. Bailey
Dairy Production Medicine
Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine
Virginia Tech
(540) 231-3936

One of the larger expenses incurred on the dairy is replacement heifer rearing. Replacement rearing is second only to feed cost for the lactating cows. In surveys of dairy expenditures, this item accounts for 9% to 20% of the total expenses on the farm. Heifers will not return on your investment (approximately $1000 to $1300 per heifer at 24 months of age) until they are in lactation. Projections range from a loss of $1.50 to $3.00 for every day in excess of 24 months of age that calving is delayed, therefore delays in age to first calving will add approximately $50 per heifer per month to the expenses incurred in raising heifers. A herd of 100 lactating cows with a culling rate of 33% will need to calve 38 heifers per 12 months (5 extra heifers to allow for an additional 15% culling of the first calf heifers). If the average heifer calving age is 30 months, the increase in expenses is approximately $300 per heifer for those 6 months over goal. This translates to an $11,400 (38 X $300) loss per year in excess labor, feed, facilities, fuel, etc. Several specific items can reduce expenses while increasing the dairies profitability and produce heifers that will milk to their potential: (1) the early development period - colostrum is critical to a healthy heifer, (2) rations specifically formulated for weight gains during strategic times of development -- over-feeding prior to puberty can be detrimental to milk production, (3) Holstein heifers weigh 775 to 800 pounds at 14 to 15 months for breeding to calve at 24 to 25 months, (4) Holstein heifers average gain of 1.8 pounds per day of age to calve at 24 months weighing 1350 pounds, (5) use of superior AI sires on replacement heifers for breeding - first calf heifers represent 33% of the contribution of calves to the replacement pool, (6) weight is more critical than age at calving in relation to milk production, (7) a system to monitor weight, height, and body condition score during heifer development and at calving, along with milk production at start-up (day 1 - 40), peak (day 41 - 100), and mature equivalents as indicators of good heifer development. Heifers can be adequately developed to calve at 24 months, while decreasing expenses and increasing profits.

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