What are your herd size goals for the next 5 years? What would you like your dairy to look like in 10, 15 or 20 years?
Joseph Harner, biological and agricultural engineer at Kansas State University, told the audience at the recent Vita-Plus Calf Summit that having a plan for housing heifers is just as important as projecting for future milking-herd facility needs. Harner advised that such a heifer-housing plan should take into consideration the following factors that are changing in the U.S. dairy industry:
(1)Sexed semen - Adopting sexed semen means a herd's future heifer population will grow, from approximately 47% of the lactating herd bearing heifer calves, to 60-75%.
(2)Data-driven strategies - Gathering information on heifers at a young age - including weight, height, health and genomic data - will allow producers to develop "exit" strategies for heifers that do not reach performance benchmarks. Such strategic culling will impact the facility needs of the operation.
(3)Technology/grouping - If a herd is switching to autofeeders and group housing, post-weaning facilities will need to accommodate those groups - for example, planning pens for 20- to 25-head increments.
(4)Animal welfare audits - Future oversight of the industry by outside auditors is a likely reality. Standards such as one stall and one feeding space per heifer, plus shade and wind protection for open lots, will drive up the cost of facilities.
(5)Linkages -- Dairy managers are employing a host of strategies to streamline their replacement rearing, including partnering with other dairies to develop dedicated, pooled calf- and heifer-raising facilities.
While the current practice in most operations is to group heifers according to age, Harner advised grouping based on weight instead. That includes breeding based on physical dimensions versus age.
To view Harner's full presentation, including detailed structural diagrams of heifer facilities, click here .