Three of the largest expenses on any dairy farm are feed, labor and replacement heifers. Some would argue that two of these expenses, feed and replacement heifers, are directly tied to one another. The number of days an animal is on feed is affected by the animal’s age at first calving, which is determined by age at conception.

That said, time is of the essence when it comes to raising heifers. The time from birth to entry to the AI pen, time from entry to the AI pen to first AI, age at conception and age at first calving are all equally important. To make sure calves are moving through your heifer-rearing facility on a timely basis, Joseph Dalton, dairy specialist at the University of Idaho, recommends setting goals for your heifer-rearing program. Dalton shared the following goals for Holstein heifers with audience members at the Dairy Cattle Reproduction Council Annual Meeting.

  • Average daily gain: 1.8 pounds per day.
  • Weight at first service: 800 pounds.
  • Age at first calving: 22 to 24 months.
  • Weight at first calving: 1,350 to 1,400 pounds.
  • Weight after first calving: 1,250 pounds.
  • Body condition score: 3.25 to 3.5.

“Once you’ve set benchmarks for your operation, then you can go back and ask yourself, ‘are we developing heifers to meet criteria on time?’ If the answer is no, it’s time to go back and reevaluate your heifer-raising strategies and make adjustments,” he said.

 Source: Reprinted with permission from Joseph Dalton, University of Idaho, by Land O’Lakes Purina Feed