A New York state dairy noticed that its heifers were falling short of the herd's growth goals. The farm owner called in the herd's nutritionist to see how they could get things back on track to ensure heifers entered the lactating herd in a timely fashion.
Why is this an issue? Every month that calving is delayed beyond the 22-month target costs the dairy about $100 per animal because of lost production and fewer days of productive life.(1)
The nutritionist and producer decided to add a high-quality protein source to the ration. High-quality protein can be used by the heifer for volumetric growth without over-conditioning. The protein source was included in the diet from 12 weeks of age until the heifers joined the prefresh pen.
The results were seen quickly and were significant:
- Heifers reached the farm goal of a breeding height of 50 inches approximately 90 days earlier than the herd historical average.
- Breeding weight of 900 lbs. was reached approximately 30 days earlier than the herd historical average.
Along with the ration reformulation, additional management factors helped achieve optimal growth:
- Managing variation. Even the best heifer operations see variation among heifers in each pen due to differences in genetics and incidence of disease. Develop growth and weight criteria heifers must meet before they are bred to maintain consistency across heifers.
- Tracking animal performance. How can we determine the success of a heifer raising program without numbers? Periodically weighing heifers can help determine average daily gains and identify when adjustments must be made to the diet to hit growth targets.
(1) Lormore M. Earlier first calving makes money. Northeast: The Manager. February 2005.