A heifer's average daily gain (ADG) and cost per pound of gain are more sensitive metrics than cost per day, and more top managers are turning to them to assess heifer program performance. When used in conjunction with health records and visual observation, these assessments offer a better means to determine which animals have the potential to bring the most productivity and profitability.


The concept of managing for average daily gain and feed efficiency is a model that has long been used by the beef feedlot industry, which is skilled at separating feed cost from fixed costs like yardage (or housing) and labor. This perspective enables managers to increase income by increasing lean gain.


To know which animals meet your goals for optimum growth, track heifers by cohort group. This enables you to account for seasonality of performance and helps fine-tune your management response to rearing challenges.


Here are a few guidelines to see how your heifers stack up:

  • For the first 70 days of age, a reasonable ADG should be 1.7 to 2 pounds per day. This will be driven by colostrum management and the feeding program, as well as weather and animal comfort.
  • By six months of age, heifers should average at least 2 pounds of gain per day.
  • Your target for first breeding should be based on size rather than age. Depending on breed and individual herd dynamics, heifers should be about 51 inches at the hip (for Holsteins) and about 55% of their dam's mature body weight at breeding, and about 85% of their dam's mature body weight at calving.

To reach these ADG goals, proper protein nutrition is critical. Also consider using strategies that enhance rumen fermentation. When rumen fermentation is enhanced, the rumen microbes make more microbial protein, which supports greater volumetric growth. The goal should be for heifers to look and perform like athletes, with strong muscle and bones and little fat.


This Tip of the Week has been brought to you by the Dairy Calf & Heifer Association and sponsored by Fermenten, brought to you by Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition.