Successful dairy operations recognize heifers as an important investment in the future of the business.

They place high value on the care of their heifers throughout the rearing period, knowing that daily management decisions relating to heifers can compound to have great impacts on current and future farm profitability in the form of hidden expenses and lost future productivity. Overall, the goal of a replacement heifer program is to produce quality heifers with the highest potential to be productive and profitable while minimizing costs to the farm and the environment.

Monitoring Heifer Growth

Monitoring height and weight of calves and heifers is essential to tracking the progress of each animal throughout the heifer-rearing period. Although we can readily spot fat and thin heifers, it is difficult to look at a heifer and determine if her height and weight are appropriate for her age. With just a few objective measurements, tracking heifer performance becomes much easier.

The success of a heifer-rearing program can be evaluated by monitoring the height and weight of calves and heifers and comparing the results against the herd's heifer growth goals or breed averages for a specific age group. Although most dairy producers, consultants, feed industry representatives, and veterinarians can recognize fat or thin animals, it is difficult to visually determine whether a heifer’s height or weight is normal for her age. Measuring and weighing heifers allows them to be compared to standards that can indicate a problem in the heifer program.

A new spreadsheet from Penn State (2013) that uses mature size and herd goals for age at first calving to generate a growth chart, meaning heifer performance is compared to the growth required to meet herd goals, not to a breed standard.

A series of spreadsheets that allow comparisons of heifer growth to breed standards. These spreadsheets are designed to provide flexible options for monitoring heifer growth.

These growth charts may be printed and used to plot heifer growth compared to a breed standard. Each file contains a graph of recommended body weight and withers height as well as a table listing the recommended range by month of age.

Heifer Feeding and Management

The age of heifers at their first calving has profound impact on the total costs of raising heifers. This article examines what is happening to age at first calving in Pennsylvania Holsteins based on DHI data.

Improving feed efficiency in heifers can be accomplished by increasing diet digestibility, increasing forage fiber (NDF) digestibility, stimulating rumen microbial digestion, optimizing—not maximizing—feed intake, maintaining the animal in an adequate environment, maintaining the heifer in optimal health and management, and maintaining optimal growth rates.

Provided the level of intake is restricted to allow for an optimal level of ADG, high concentrate, precision-fed rations can be fed to dairy heifers successfully. Precision feeding heifers has the potential to reduce feed costs, reduce nutrient excretion, and increase feed efficiency without compromising heifer growth or future lactation performance.

Les remplacements des vaches laitières sont les fondations de toute entreprise laitière. L’amélioration du troupeau laitier est possible lorsque les vaches de réforme sont remplacées par des génisses de deux ans bien alimentées, saines, génétiquement supérieures et bien conduites.

Nuevos conceptos en los requerimientos de nutrientes para el crecimiento y estimación de los requerimientos de nutrientes de animales en crecimiento.

Summary of a variety of design suggestions useful when planning calf and heifer housing systems for Holstein dairy cattle. This information provides a starting point for the design process.

Summary of a variety of design suggestions useful when planning calf and heifer housing systems for Jersey dairy cattle. This information provides a starting point for the design process.

Microsoft Excel, 90.8 kB

The Penn State Dairy Heifer Diet Formulator (PSU-HDF) encourages an approach to heifer feeding that is driven by the desire to precisely meet metabolizable energy (ME) and nitrogen needs of growing dairy heifers while allowing farmers to meet their desired goals for growth, age at first breeding, age at first calving, and first lactation production. This spreadsheet allows you to choose feeds from the library or enter the composition of feeds on your farm, then balance a diet to meet a targeted growth rate.

Typically dairy heifers derive the majority of their nutrition from forages as opposed to concentrates. However, there is inefficiency with this method of feeding. Replacing forage dry matter with concentrates offers potential to improve the efficiency of heifer feeding, while maintaining similar rates of gain and reducing excretion of manure and nutrients. This article describes a series of experiments conducted by researchers at Penn State and the University of Wisconsin to evaluate these feeding strategies.

This article addresses aspects of a successful rearing program for replacement heifers.


PDF, 30.2 kB

Provided as an example of how to complete the spreadsheet, this template uses data from Penn State research to demonstrate the use of the Heifer Costs Calculator spreadsheet.

Microsoft Excel, 648.2 kB

The Heifer Costs Calculator spreadsheet provides a tool to determine the actual costs of raising replacement heifers on any dairy operation.

Microsoft Excel, 28.5 kB

Excel spreadsheet.

Microsoft Excel, 28.5 kB

Excel spreadsheet.

Microsoft Excel, 29.0 kB

Excel spreadsheet.

Today’s successful dairy operation recognizes that heifers are an important investment in the future. They place high value on the heifer and regard it as a managed resource, whether raised on the farm or contract grown. Unfortunately, on many farms, the dairy heifer is the most overlooked and under managed asset on the farm.

El entendimiento de los costos involucrados en la cría de vaquillas debe ser una cuestión importante para los productores en la industria lechera. Los animales de reemplazo se estiman dentro del 15-20 por ciento del total de los costos de producción de leche. El reemplazo de vaquillas se califica como el segundo o tercer componente más grande en costos de producción después de la alimentación y posiblemente en la mano de obra, en la mayoría de los establoslecheros.

Microsoft Excel, 211.5 kB

A spreadsheet tool to determine the actual costs of raising replacement heifers. Italian language version.

Contracts and Custom Businesses

An understanding of the importance of a written contract and its components is essential for custom heifer growers and for the dairy producers planning to employ these services.

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Sample of a contract to grow dairy heifers at a fixed price per day. This example may be helpful in developing your own agreement.

PDF, 69.6 kB

Sample of a contract to grow dairy heifers that includes a flat per head fee plus a schedule of rates per pound of gain at various ages. This example may be helpful in developing your own agreement.