Compare your first-lactation goals
If you’re looking to maximize rate of return on your heifer-raising investment, a first-lactation goal should be calving heifers at 22 months and 85% mature body weight.
As expenses often surpass market price for selling excess springers, raising the correct number of high-quality replacements is key to your bottom line. While all goals are crucial, Dale Miller, First Defense Sales and Marketing Manager for Northeast US and Canada, pays extra attention to first-lactation goals as a way to measure the success of a heifer-raising program.
In this Q & A, Dale explains why having healthy animals enter the milking string at 22 months and 85% mature body weight can generate maximum profitability. See how your heifer-raising program compares.
Q. How can age at first calving (AFC) affect my bottom line?
A. Let’s talk numbers, starting with income-over-feed costs and assuming the following: It costs $1.75 per day to feed springers, and $5.00 per day for milking cows. When comparing an AFC of 24 months vs. 22 months, it will cost $105 to feed springers 60 days longer and about $300 to feed a milk cow. Based on those feed costs, you’ll spend $195 more to feed a cow. Now let’s factor in milk income at $16 per hundredweight and 80 pounds of milk per day. While it may cost almost $200 to feed that cow, she’ll generate $573 for those 60 days, above and beyond feed costs.
If you have 1,000 heifers freshening at 22 months instead of 24 months, you’ll net $573,000. Again these calculations account for the heifer meeting a size target of 85% mature body weight at 22 months. If she’s not at that target size, she’ll shift growth into lactation, resulting in feed going to growth instead of milk. Plus, we’ll have to factor in health risks, which typically increase with smaller-than-target animals. While calving in earlier can offset rearing costs like feed consumption, it’s critical that heifers are healthy and able to maximize their genetic potential.
Q. How do I calculate mature body weight?
A. To determine the average mature body weight in your herd, calculate the average weight of third- and fourth-lactation cows. We then use that number to help establish benchmarks. For breeding, heifers should be at 55% of mature herd size and about 51 inches tall for Holsteins and 43 inches for Jerseys (measured at the point of withers). At calving, heifers should be at 85% of mature body size. For Holsteins, that should be around 1,350 pounds and 55 inches tall (about 900 pounds for Jerseys and about 50 inches).
Q. How does AFC affect how many replacements I’ll need to maintain my herd?
A. Raising more heifers than you need is clearly an added expense. Unless you plan on expanding or decreasing your herd size, the goal should be to maintain your herd while raising fewer replacements. Let’s look at two different examples: one herd has an average 22-month calving age and the second herd calves in at 26 months. Both have a 35% cull rate (the number of cows that leave the herd in a year divided by the total number of dry and milking cows) and a 10% non-completion rate on heifers (percentage of heifers born that do not enter the milking string).
As the AFC increases, the number of replacements needed increases. Using the outlined examples, this producer will need an additional 156 heifers in the program based on a 26-month AFC versus 22 months (the difference between 35.5 and 41.5 over 26 months).
Q. First Defense is in the calf-care business…why are you talking about AFC?
A. We walk hutches and maternity pens and love to visit with producers and talk about goals, from the first few hours of birth to first lactation and beyond. Getting calves off to a good start is key to reaching first-lactation goals. We like to help set calves up for success from Day One, including reducing treatments and decreasing costs. Healthy calves turn into healthy heifers who turn into healthy, productive and profitable cows.