Scrutinize Heifer Rearing Costs

Manage heifer inventories to strengthen margins. ( Brody Wheeler )

Replacement heifer rearing costs are second only to feed costs as the largest economic input on a dairy. Many producers are scrutinizing feed costs to eliminate unnecessary components of the ration or ingredients where cost outweighs the benefit.

Heifer rearing costs should receive the same scrutiny. Many producers are evaluating the methods in which heifers are raised to improve efficiency. Perhaps a larger opportunity exists to evaluate the dairy’s overall heifer inventory. If you factor in all costs, including death and treatment cost, the total cost to raise a heifer until the time of calving is often around $2,000.

TOO MANY HEIFERS

Over the years, producers have improved reproductive programs and reduced calf death loss due to better nutrition, colostrum management and other effective protocols. These factors have been key to increased profitability of the farm and along with use of sexed semen on many farms, have led to an overabundance of replacement heifers. Many dairies have a heifer inventory of one heifer for every milking cow and sometimes more.

First of all, the farm should establish the appropriate number of heifers. Many factors go into this heifer inventory calculation, including lactating cow and heifer cull rate, desired herd size in future years, percent of calves born that are heifers, number of stillborn heifers and age at first calving.

When you establish how many heifers you need based on these calculations, build in a 5% increase as a cushion for unforeseen circumstances. Reducing culling in the first 60 days by better transition cow programs will also decrease heifer inventory needs. Culling lactating cows in the first 60 days in milk is often unprofitable because these cows are typically thin due to poor transition.

Many producers worry they might run short on heifers in the future. If the farm runs short on replacements, the worst-case scenario is the farm has to purchase some springer or early lactation heifers to fill in the gaps. Given the current and projected future heifer prices, this is still a more financially beneficial scenario than raising too many heifers.

SELL SOME HEIFERS

How do you decrease your current and future heifer inventory? Current inventory is fairly straightforward: Sell replacement heifers. Given the current market for selling replacements, the most logical solution is to sell young heifers. Prices are low, but the major advantage is removing the heifer before the input costs begin to add up on that animal. Also, consider culling some heifers with chronic disease (particularly respiratory) from the herd, as they will likely never be profitable animals.

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Consider breeding the bottom half of your herd to beef semen to add value to bull calves and reduce heifer inventories.

The long-term solution to decrease heifer inventory is to strategically use beef semen. Crossbreeding presents a potential opportunity for the dairy to add value to the bull calves for either sale or raising on the farm. Bull stud companies offer beef bulls that cross well with Holsteins. There is data to determine which bulls present the best opportunity to add the most value to the crossbred calves. Consider asking around to see what the local market is for your crossbred calves. Often the value of crossbred bull calves exceeds purebred Holsteins.

Meet with your veterinarian, nutritionist and genetics consultant to evaluate your heifer inventory. Making the right decisions can save the farm thousands of dollars long term by reducing the cost of the heifer replacement program and adding value to bull calves born on the farm.

To see a video of Jersey/Angus cross heifers, watch the video below:

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