Routinely monitor performance of dairy heifer calves

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Key performance indicators should be monitored routinely to evaluate the quality of calf management on dairy farms. Three key aspects of management that should be considered are: mortality, morbidity or illness, and growth.

The Dairy Calf and Heifer Association has developed Gold Standards for production and performance of Holstein calves. Dairy producers and heifer growers can use these standards to develop goals for successful management of heifers on their farms.

Targets recommended by the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association include: 

Mortality
24 hr to 60 days of age: < 5%
(Note: Calves that are born alive but die within 24 hours of birth are considered to be stillbirths.)

Morbidity (24 hr to 60 days of age)
Pneumonia:  < 10%
Scours:          < 25%

Weight
Double birth weight by 60 days of age

Good recordkeeping systems help ensure that necessary data are recorded. Computerized systems can simplify the process of summarizing the data and creating useful reports and graphs. Important data to be collected are:

  • Completion dates of routine tasks, such as vaccinations, weaning, and dehorning
  • Type and date of illnesses, and treatments
  • Death and reason for death
  • Height and weight

Height and weight can be measured most easily when handling calves for other tasks, such as birth, moving to group housing after weaning and vaccinations. Weigh tapes or scales can be used to obtain weights. Height can be determined with a measuring stick. An alternative used by some producers is to mark a post within a pen at various heights and observe heifers as they walk past the post.

Successful calf management programs depend on setting goals and routinely monitoring whether the goals are being met. Goals should be reviewed and updated periodically.



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