Heifer reproduction is not an area looked at very often, but some real opportunities exist to make improvements and cut cost, says Jerry Olson, senior veterinarian with Pfizer Animal Health.

Not getting heifers bred on time is an expensive thing, Olson told attendees at the Dairy Wellness Summit in Denver. It can cost $50 to $60 per month for every additional month you have to feed a heifer past your goal. The way to cut this extra expense is to get heifers bred in a timely manner.

Keys to improve pregnancy rates include:

  • Use prostaglandin for timely breeding. Two doses of prostaglandin up front save 10 to 12 days of feed. Give the first dose on date of AI pen entry and give the second dose 11 to 14 days later if not bred.
  • At 28 days in AI pen check those not yet inseminated. Enroll in five-day Controlled Internal Drug Release (CIDR) synch timed-AI protocol.
  • Pregnancy check AI pens every seven to 14 days.
  • Re-enroll open heifers. Prostaglandin or five-day CIDR synch for open heifers.
  • Reconfirm pregnancy early (70 to 90 DCC) to re-enroll aborted animals early and avoid shipping open animals.
  • Pay attention to management details: health of animals (vaccination protocols); efficiency of lock up (headlocks, gates and fences); keep corrals and concrete aprons clean; and proper nutrition (manage feed bunks).

Olson suggests the following growth goals for Holstein heifers:

  • Average daily gain: 1.8 pounds per day
  • Weight at first breeding: 800 to 850 pounds
  • Height at first breeding: 49 inches to 51 inches
  • Weight at first calving: 1,350 pounds to 1,400 pounds
  • Weight after first calving: 1,250 pounds
  • Height after first calving: 54 inches
  • Body condition score at first calving: 3.25 to 3.5

To monitor your heifer program, Olson recommends using age at first breeding as the metric of choice.

“It is worth paying attention to your heifer reproduction program as it’s not an area looked at often, but there are some real opportunities,” advises Olson.