It May Not Be Wise to Raise Every Heifer
October 17, 2016

It May Not Be Wise to Raise Every Heifer

 |  By: Mike Opperman

Not every heifer is better than a potential cull cow. Know what it really costs to replace a lactating cow, then put a plan in place to manage inventories and identify which heifers need to leave the farm before reaching the milking herd.

Steve Bodart, principal business consultant with AgStar Financial Services, Baldwin, Wis. says optimizing inventory management by focusing on heifer quality and quantity can lead to greater profitability. 

Looking at heifer rearing costs, Bodart says expenses can reach $1,500 to $1,900 to raise a Holstein heifer to first calving. Add on $200 to $300 for the value of the calf at birth and the value of the animal as a springer can be as much as $2,200. “Figuring in what a cow can bring in for income once they reach the milking herd and a cow can be well into its second lactation before it pays off its rearing costs,” Bodart says.

Especially for those producers that have excess heifers, Bodart says genomics can be one way to know if a heifer is worth the investment of raising it all the way to calving. He cited a 1,000-cow dairy example where the bottom 15 percent of heifers based on genomic test were culled at four months of age. Compared to a same sized dairy that kept all heifers, he saw the following results analyzing herd inventories and costs over a four year period:

  • Herd inventory changed. Because there were fewer heifers freshening each year, the percentage of first lactation cows dropped. That means there were more higher-producing older cows in the herd.
  • Since there were fewer heifers to raise, total heifer rearing costs dropped by more than $330,000
  • Cumulative net income went up nearly $170,000
  • More milk from older cows and lower feed costs from feeding fewer heifers resulted in a difference in cumulative cash flow of $345,000
  • Difference in cost of production was 36 cents per hundredweight

“The effect of optimizing inventory management has a significant impact on cash flow and net income,” Bodart says. “This has a major impact on profitability and the financial health of the dairy.”