Want to increase the odds of first-calf heifers finishing their first lactation and remaining in your herd? Then, monitor several calf-development parameters, according to data from researchers in Spain.

The scientists tracked 7,768 Holstein heifers and found that the potential exists to forecast future heifer success in finishing the first lactation based on growth rate during the first two months of life, incidence of respiratory problems, reproductive performance for conception and abortion rates, as well as age at first calving.

For example, heifers that reached a second lactation grew about 1.76 more pounds per day in their first two months than animals that did not reach their second lactation. Heifers that experienced an abortion were almost three times more likely to leave the herd than those that did not. And, heifers that experienced four or more cases of bovine respiratory disease were almost twice as likely not to complete their first lactation. These data offer further evidence of the importance of calf health and development on future performance and overall herd profitability.

The research was published in the February 2011 Journal of Dairy Science.