When it comes to buying concentrates for heifers, it is customary to make a purchase based on the cost per ton of feed, and not the cost per pound of available nutrients, such as protein.

Although this may appear to be a logical feed-cost control strategy, it actually can work against target growth, breeding and calving-age goals you’ve established for your heifers, says Robert Corbett, veterinarian and nutritionist in Spring City, Utah.

“If the cost per ton of all the ingredients put into the ration (is) cheaper, then the cost per ton of the TMR (is) less expensive,” Corbett said at the 2012 Dairy Calf & Heifer Conference. “But … growth rate is going to be slower on these animals. It’s going to take longer for these animals to get to breeding age and also to come in for first lactation.”                   

During his presentation, Corbett used protein as an example to show how sometimes what may seem like a good buy is not necessarily so when you look at the feed’s cost per pound of protein.

If you look at “library” values for corn distillers’ grains, for example, the protein level is right around 30 percent, “but it is a highly variable product, and it might be as low as 25 percent protein and maybe get up as high as 32 percent,” Corbett said.

When he did some calculations based on local commodity prices in his area, feeding distillers grains would actually cost more to feed than soybean meal, when you look at it on a cost per pound of protein basis.

“The main reason we’re feeding soybean meal is for the protein. The cost of that protein is less expensive than if we’re feeding corn distillers grains,” he said. “And because it’s in a more concentrated package, it gives us some flexibility for the rest of the ration. We’re able to balance the ration better.”

According to DCHA Gold Standards, post-weaned heifers should be fed enough protein and energy to meet maintenance requirements and achieve a growth rate of at least 1.7 to 2.0 pounds per day.

For more information on growth rate and nutrition standards for Holstein heifers, please see Section III in the Gold Standards II.