Heifer rearing cost: Critical control points – Pat Hoffman, Vita Plus
Click here to download Hoffman’s PowerPoint presentation.
By Progressive Dairyman Editor Peggy Coffeen
When it comes to raising heifers, cutting costs is challenging because 60 percent of the total expense is feed. While feed costs are quite volatile, costs can be controlled at a few places in heifer rearing.
Pat Hoffman, Vita Plus dairy technical service specialist, identified these critical control points at the Vita Plus Calf Summit:
1. Housing and inventory – Assess housing options and, if feasible, reduce heifer inventory.
Dairy producers must ask themselves, “Do I really need to raise all of my heifers?” In the past, that answer was probably “yes,” but today, with the use of sexed semen and lower death loss, the heifer barn may have more animals than needed for herd replacements. Hoffman said there are a couple of management options to consider: maintain the course by expanding the milking herd, culling more cows or selling springers; or, reduce inventory by means such as determining the genetic bottom quartile through genomic testing and selling these animals as calves.
2. Labor efficiency – Do a labor audit.
Labor and management account for 18 percent of the cost to raise heifers. On average, that is $244 per heifer (from post-weaning on up). Hoffman believes this is where dairy producers have room for improvement. On average, one person should manage 402 heifers in one eight-hour day, including feeding, giving shots, bedding and checking for heats. He suggests farms conduct a labor audit to determine how long it takes everyone to do daily heifer chores on the farm.
“If you do this, you will be dumbfounded at how much labor costs,” Hoffman said.
3. Days on feed – The value of lost milk is worth more than the monthly rearing costs.
According to a University of Wisconsin benchmarking study, the average days on feed for a Wisconsin heifer is 630. But with this number comes a biological limitation, Hoffman explained. A heifer fed for 22 months versus one fed for 26 months has a different cost. The optimal age for a heifer to calve is between 22 and 24 months old range to maximize milk production and curb feed costs.
4. Pregnancy rate – A true pregnancy rate greater than 45 percent is necessary to control days on feed.
Days on feed is ultimately controlled by pregnancy rate. A higher pregnancy rate keeps calving age tighter.
“It’s not when you start breeding, it’s when the heifer is successfully bred that controls days on feed,” Hoffman noted.
5. Breeding protocol – Utilize modern criteria.
Make the decision to breed a heifer based on her weight and age; age alone is not a reliable method. Instead, strive to have all heifers reach the target weight by the time they are between 13 and 16 months old.
6. Feed cost per heifer – Insist heifers consume all feed; reduce shrink; avoid excess protein and mineral supplementation.
Borrowing the concept of bunk management from the feedlot business, Hoffman insisted people feeding heifers must be trained to understand and react to what is going on in the bunks in heifer barns to avoid wasted feed while maximizing gains. Some operations may consider limit feeding. While this only reduces dry matter intake by less than 1 pound per day, those savings can add up over a large number of heifers. When done correctly, feed efficiency gains can reach 15 to 18 percent.
Hoffman further noted the majority of heifer diets are feeding minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, chlorine and potassium in amounts beyond what the animals can utilize; similarly, protein is commonly fed in excess. Reviewing and analyzing the ration for these nutrients may offer some cost-savings.
Business and economics
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