Avoid heifer growth bottlenecks
Heifers go through many growth stages on their path to maturity. Most dairy producers and heifer raisers do a good job of managing heifers throughout most of these stages, but a variety of bottlenecks can limit heifer potential and hamper management excellence.
In general, common heifer-raising bottlenecks fall into the following categories. The challenges and solutions include:
--Colostrum harvest and delivery. It's essential that 4 quarts of colostrum (Holsteins) is delivered quickly after the calf's birth. Also ensure that proper sanitation occurs during colostrum harvest.
--Ramp up milk intake (energy and protein) during week one. A calf needs more energy than what 2 quarts of milk replacer twice a day will provide. From day two to day seven, consider feeding 3 quarts of milk replacer twice a day or 2.5 quarts three times per day.
--Weaning. Wean calves when they consume 2.5 to 3 pounds of a quality starter feed daily. Make sure free-choice water is available and consider leaving calves in individual hutches for a week after weaning, or until they consume 8 pounds of starter grain to help them to adjust to the change.
--Lag phase. This is the period from about week nine to week 17 and includes the time when calves are transferred to group pens and introduced to forages. Avoid group housing until heifers consume 8 pounds of starter grain daily, and wait to introduce hay to the diet until they have been in group pens for a week. Also wait to introduce corn silage or haylage until these animals are five months of age. Transition to a grower grain mix.
--Grower phase. By about 18 weeks, heifers should be receiving a quality grower grain mix that's been carefully formulated to deliver correct amounts of a coccidiostat, energy, protein and a vitamin/trace mineral mix to supplement varying amounts and quality of forages. The percentage of dietary forages may be increased now, as well.
--Introduction to the breeding pen. This move must be based primarily upon accurate hip heights and secondarily on age and weight. Holsteins should be 51 to 52 inches at the hip when entering the breeding pen.
--Movement to close-up pen. The most common mistake is not getting springer heifers on the close-up diet for more than 21 days. The second most common mistake is not properly feeding the rumen microbes to provide about 1,200 grams metabolizable protein.
These points are not the weak links on every farm, but they offer a good review to see where producers and heifer raisers might improve.
More intensive management systems that correct these bottlenecks are worth the effort and extra cost of inputs and labor through a reduction in veterinary and medicine bills and lower death losses.
For more from Dr. Gene Boomer, Arm and Hammer Animal Nutrition manager, field technical services, about these heifer development bottlenecks and how to manage them, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrynnqLn1a0.