Getting a Handle on Heifer-Raising Costs

( Maureen Hanson )

What does it cost to truly raise a replacement heifer from birth to weaning? Probably a lot more than you think, if you haven’t recently crunched the numbers on the value of all of the required inputs to raise replacements in your operation.

Larry Tranel, Dairy Field Specialist for Iowa State University Extension, performed a recent assessment of total inputs required to raise a dairy heifer from birth to 24 months of age. He calculated the total cost to be about $1,950 per head. His evaluation was highly comprehensive, including:

  1. Feed -- $1,167
  2. Livestock expenses -- $268
  3. Facilities and equipment -- $240
  4. Labor - $275.00

For producers selling raised heifers, Tranel suggested additional costs for cow ownership (interest on investment) of $110; and the initial value of the calf $175; also must be considered, for a total value of more than $2,200. 

North Dakota State University Extension Dairy Specialist Emeritus J.W. Schroeder said feed represents the largest portion of heifer-raising costs by far, making up half or more of the total resources required to raise heifers. It also is the area with the most potential for cost savings.

“Feed costs are the most prevalent area where costs can be refined,” noted Schroeder. “Understanding heifer nutrition requirements and how to adjust to changing environments without overconditioning is important.” He identified the following strategies to rein in feed costs for growing heifers:

  • Calculate and feed precise amounts of minerals and vitamins.
  • Do not overfeed protein.
  • Use efficient feed-bunk management and feed-handling techniques to avoid waste.
  • Use acceptable management tools, such as ionophores, to promote growth efficiency.
  • Maintain control of forage costs.
  • If possible, integrate intensive rotational grazing as a part of your heifer nutrition plan.

Tranel suggested other measures that can help lower heifer-raising expenses are to reduce calving age, lower the cull rate in the lactating herd, and sell more heifers at birth – thus reducing the number of animals to be raised to adulthood. 

As a rule of thumb, Tranel estimated a base heifer-raising cost of $2.33 per head per day at 700 pounds. For different weights, estimate a “slide down” of $0.10 per head per day for each 100 pounds under 700 pounds; and a $0.15-0.25 “slide up” for each 100 pound over 700 pounds. 

In the weaned-to-calving phase, he estimated a total cost of $1,620 per head over 674 days, or approximately $2.40/head/day. This may be a useful base figure for custom growers. But, Tranel also noted, “Realize costs vary greatly from farm-to-farm. Calculate your own costs for more accuracy.”

 
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