Identify challenges, take action
Consistent growth monitoring is important so that calf raisers can make more proactive management decisions. Catching management pitfalls early is paramount for calves and heifers to reach their full genetic potential.
If calves and heifers are falling short of growth goals, it is important to take this time to gather employees to refresh feeding and management protocols, re-evaluate the nutrition program with a nutritionist, discuss with the herd’s veterinarian and check facilities to make sure that there aren’t any environmental issues holding calves and heifers back from reaching their full genetic potential.
Geisler notes three common reasons he comes across when growth benchmarks are not being met:
- Calves are not receiving adequate nutrition – Geisler recommends feeding a higher plane of nutrition to help support increased weight gains and structural growth. Full potential feeding is 2.5 pounds of milk solids per day or the equivalent of 2.5 gallons of whole milk or 2.5 pounds of milk replacer.
- Lack of rumen development – Calf raisers often push too much forage too soon, says Geisler; this he says can result in delayed rumen development and a slump in growth. Feeding a calf starter with no hay (through 12 weeks of age) can help support proper rumen development.
- Environment – Poor air quality and lack of proper ventilation in particular can hinder calf growth and performance, says Geisler. Regular facility walk-throughs are recommended to evaluate if air quality is a limiting factor.
If asked, dairy herd managers can often recite their lactating herd performance metrics off the top of their head (daily milk production, average days open, cull rate, etc.). As calf and heifer operations continue to become larger and more profit-driven, it is time that we take that same mindset and apply it towards our calf operations to optimize the return on our investment. Doing so will help calves grow more efficiently and develop into cows with more lifetime profit potential.
 Dairy Calf and Heifer Association. Gold Standards I and II. 2011.