Realizing that raising replacement heifers is the second largest expense on a dairy, many dairy producers are looking for strategies that will cut costs. However, research from the University of Georgia shows that a higher upfront investment in calves can actually be the most cost-effective strategy.
Michael Overton, DVM, MPVM, previously a researcher at the University of Georgia, and now a technical services consultant with Elanco Knowledge Solutions, put together an economic model comparing conventional and intensified feeding of calves.
“Throughout each growth stage, the intensive system costs more per day, but the conventional system results in a higher total cost per heifer due primarily to the longer feeding period,” says Overton. Intensively raised heifers exit the heifer stage considerably faster and consume less total pounds of feed before they become cows.
The total rearing cost is estimated to be $2,449 and $2,415 for conventional versus intensively fed heifers, respectively.1
When benefits to first lactation milk yield are added into the calculation, the intensified feeding program has approximately a $205 economic advantage. “Even without the projected added milk in the first lactation, the advantage goes to intensified heifer rearing,” says Overton.
Other factors not accounted for in the model are second lactation milk benefits, the potential benefit of greater survivability and shortened rearing intervals provided by full potential feeding programs. The need to keep fewer replacement animals in the pipeline is also not accounted for; Overton estimates that conventional feeding would require a 12- to 15-percent larger heifer inventory to meet the same supply needs compared to herds feeding heifers intensively.

1 M.W. Overton, R.B. Corbett and W.G. Boomer, An economic comparison of conventional vs. intensive heifer rearing, 2013 Western Dairy Management Conference.

Source: Purina Animal Nutrition HerdSmart e-Newsletter, April 30, 2013