Dairy replacement heifer management: Paradigms and progress

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The goals of dairy replacement management programs are to raise heifers at low economic and environment cost without compromising future lactation performance, said Pat Hoffman at the 2010 DCRC annual meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota. Although multiple management and nutrition programs exist, not all achieve these desired results.

Hoffman presented research results from a trial which evaluated the on-farm potential of widely accepted heifer-rearing approaches over the last two decades. The study included the programs outlined below with the highlighted benefits and drawbacks:

Intensified calf feeding. Accelerates growth rates by increasing the amount of liquid feed provided to the calf. This practice offers the potential to improve calf growth, reduce disease, reduce calving age or increase milk yield, with minor costs associated.

Precision feeding dairy heifers. Used to control growth rates, decrease energy intake or feed usage, and improve feed efficiency or lactation performance. Possible results include minor behavioral changes, with benefits of a slight decrease in feed intake and manure excretion while feed efficiency is improved.

Reducing age at first calving focuses on feeding heifers high-energy diets to reduce calving age. Several studies find this practice to be solely a function of increased average daily gain in prebreeding heifers. This practice has the potential to yield an early return on investment by decreasing age at first calving.

Reducing dietary phosphorus involves reducing supplemental phosphorus offered to dairy heifers. Research shows that supplements of phosphorus have no effect on increased frame size and further studies suggest that supplemented phosphorus can be reduced or eliminated if basal feeds contain phosphorus proximal to the phosphorous requirements of dairy heifers.

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