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Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of Dairy Financial Driver Profitability Quick Tips. Information is based on work by Zoetis and Compeer Financial to analyze 11 years of herd data from 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries to identify key drivers of net farm income.

Two months isn’t a lot of time, but it can make a big difference for profitability. In fact, getting heifers pregnant two months earlier resulted in an additional $200 to $250 in lifetime net farm income per cow.

Age at first calving is an important metric in terms of managing heifer inventories and is, therefore, important to help minimize net herd turnover cost. Young stock health is paramount in allowing animals to grow properly so that they reach appropriate breeding age in a timely fashion.

As such, it is no surprise that a recent study Zoetis conducted with Compeer Financial found that heifer survival rate is one of the top six factors affecting dairy net farm income.

The analysis of 11 years of herd data from 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries quantified the value of decreased heifer survival rates on lifetime net farm income. The top one-third of herds in this study achieved an earlier age at first calving, by approximately two months, compared with the bottom one-third of herds.

This had a significant compounding effect on the number of animals in a herd over time, which contributed to an average of $200 to $250 in additional lifetime net farm income per cow.

Here are three ways you can help heifers survive and thrive to improve your net farm income:  

Raise only the right heifers

Between feed, labor, production, capital and overhead costs, herd owners have reported spending approximately $1,860 to $2,263 for each heifer raised. This could easily be one of the top expenses, which means raising the right heifers is crucial. Genomic testing that can determine susceptibility to calfhood and mature cow diseases can help you invest in heifers that have a better chance of adding short-term and long-term value to your herd.

Guard against scours and BRD

Scours and bovine respiratory disease (BRD) are responsible for decreasing calf and heifer survival rates and increasing age at first calving. Scours is responsible for up to 56.5% of mortality among pre-weaned dairy calves.

Calves that survive scours can face lifelong setbacks, including delayed growth, and are slower to reach the milking string as heifers. If a calf has pneumonia during the first 90 days of life, it is more likely to have increased mortality before first calving as well as a higher age at first calving, among other challenges.

Proactive management and vaccination of healthy pregnant cows and heifers with an injectable vaccine, such as SCOURGUARD®, or an oral vaccine given to calves before colostrum uptake can help prevent scours. And early detection of respiratory disease symptoms and treatment with an antibiotic approved for use in calves, if needed, can help prevent chronic infections for better lifetime productivity.

Optimize your reproduction program

Getting heifers inseminated as early as possible can have an enormous impact on age at first calving. And, it will get them to the milking herd sooner.

Simple steps can be taken to help improve management of your heifer reproduction program: Move heifers to the artificial insemination (AI) pen based on age. Then, on the date of the move and again 10 to 12 days later for heifers not yet inseminated, use LUTALYSE® HighCon Injection (dinoprost tromethamine injection) with your veterinarian’s recommendation. Finally, as heifers are moved to the breeding pen, conduct routine pregnancy checks so you can identify pregnant females to move out and any open heifers to re-enroll into your breeding program immediately.

Successful heifer management that lowers age at first calving and improves heifer survival is a demonstrated way to ensure your dairy continues to gain net farm income. 

Lormore, DVM, is the director of U.S. Dairy Technical Services, Zoetis

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