Editor's note: This article originally appeared in our March 2015 issue of Dairy Herd Management. To read it in magazine form along with other articles from the month, visit: http://edp.dairyherd.com/magazine
More dairies are dipping their toes into the water of accelerated feeding, followed by breeding by height at 10 to 12 months of age. At New Heights Dairy, Rice, Minn., owners Brent and Callie Czech have been breeding most of their heifers for the first time between 10 and 12 months of age since the dairy started nearly a decade ago. Today, they have 1,400 cows on two sites in close proximity.
"It was simple math for me," Brent explained. "We bought the dairy in 2006 and were filling it with cattle. The sooner we got those heifers bred and calving, the quicker we could stop buying springers."
It starts on Day 1
Czech said his top advantage was coming into a situation with a good accelerated calf-feeding program. He also had the benefit of watching earlier breeding implemented at his parents" farm for about a year before his first heifer was ready to breed.
They start with getting colostrum into the calf, and then feed calves 3X per day in bottles, utilizing pasteurized waste milk and a milk balancer to ensure calves are getting the proper nutrition. Commercial, high-energy starter and grower formulations ensure no nutrition shortfalls stifle calf growth during the first year of life.
Once the heifers reach an appropriate size, breeder Matt Rosenfeld, a service technician with Minnesota Select Sires, makes the call on which ones get bred.
"We don't have a measuring stick or scale. I credit Matt with making good decisions. For example, this month we've got a bunch that didn't meet their potential at 10 or 11 months, so we'll be breeding a little later," Brent said in February.
On average, heifers are calving at 21 months, meaning half the heifers are pregnant before a year of age, and almost all receive their first service by that point.
Brent admits it's a different approach to dairying. He thinks their system gives more uniformity between animals of the same age.
Brent's 5 tips for early-breeding success
- It starts from birth
- Calves and heifers need full nutrition
- Select calving-ease sires
- Separate fresh heifers from fresh cows
- Using recombinant bovine somatotropin helps
Facilities and bull selection matter, too
When things are going well, a good group of heifers will easily reach breeding size by 12 months of age, calve in without trouble, and adapt to the milking pen faster, Brent said.
With their accelerated calf growing system, he never had a problem with calving paralysis.
"I think we have good success with heifers calving in because we use calving-ease sires," he explained. "That's important if you want to be successful in this. And when they are coming in younger, we learned quickly that we need to keep the fresh cows and fresh heifers separate."
Brent's facility started without a division between the calving groups, but he made early modifications to divide groups by age, and saw heifers take off.
Today, his 2-year-olds are housed separately for the whole lactation, at a nearby, 300-cow facility. Since the first-lactation animals are a little younger than the average herd, he recommends keeping them separate until at least mid-lactation.
"When feed costs were high I felt that this really made sense," Brent said. "During those times we were still able to utilize the higher-priced feed on the cows, since we're saving three months of feeding of our 10- to 12-month-old heifers."
Once the heifers do calve, Brent said using bovine somatotropin also helps get the heifers off to a fast start.
"It's not perfect all the time," Brent admits in regards to their early breeding goals, due to weather, disease or protocol breaches. "But it was the next logical step in our operation."