Raising quality replacement stock requires upfront costs without immediate returns. This is one of many complex issues dairy farmers must consider when raising youngstock.
    “Youngstock management really comes down to heifer inventory and heifer management,” said Matt Atkins, a University of Wisconsin-Madison dairy management specialist.
    Atkins presented, “Youngstock management: Heifers eating into your profits?” during a Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin’s World Class Webinar Sept. 5.
    There are four goals dairy farmers should keep in mind when considering heifer inventory, according to Atkins.
    Heifer’s should first calve between 22-24 months; there should be minimum nutrition excretion with the help of a nutritionist; no reduction in lactation performance, and controlled costs by rearing a sufficient number of high quality heifers.
On average, the cost to rear a heifer from birth to their first calving is $1,800-$2,200. Over half of the cost is feed. The remaining expenses include veterinary work, facilities and labor management.
    The first step in cost-effective heifer management is to analyze the needs of the herd.
    During the webinar, Atkins demonstrated how dairy farmers can interpret the demands of their farm using an online document found on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Department of Dairy Science website.
    This heifer replacement tool takes into consideration cow herd size, cow culling rate, heifer first calving date, calf and heifer culling rates and expansion goals.
There are tools available on the website that including projects and presentations available for download to the public.
    “I highly recommend looking at the website to see what tools you can use to help your specific operation,” Atkins said.
    Replacement inventory is another crucial tool in maintaining a solid youngstock herd. If their are too many heifers on the farm, selling calves while they are young can mean more money for a dairy farmer.  
    “The earlier the better,” Atkins said on the timeliness of selling heifers. “The cost of raising heifers is high right now, and the selling cost is low, according to Wisconsin auctions and sale barns.”
    Planning to cull can be a tricky decision. There is an opportunity in culling specific animals or cows.
    “Look at cows with high somatic cell counts,” Atkins said. “That can be an indicator of problems later on. Also look at the health and reproduction status of the cow. The use of genomics or predicted transmitting ability data when sorting animals for culling is useful, too.”
    Atkins also encouraged farmers to keep track of the health of the young animals.
    “The incidence of disease, like respiratory disease especially, is something to keep track of,” Atkins said. “These things impact the production of the animal over time. It’s easier for an animal to recover from a gut issue like scours, where they can rebuild the tissue. When it comes to respiratory issues, they can’t regenerate that lung tissue and that can cause problems later on.”
    Dairy farmers can reduce their risks of culling cattle and young heifers by selective breeding, Atkins said. Sexed semen should be used on better heifers and cows, while beef semen can be used on less productive cows and genetically inferior heifers.
    “This is going to minimize culling decisions on heifers you need to keep, increase the genetic value of heifers kept and the number of dairy-beef crosses sold,” Atkins said. “The cost of breeding is higher with sexed semen, but that is quickly overcome with the higher selling value of the beef crosses.”
    Atkins advocated for the use of genomics instead of PTA analysis if a farmer is looking to selective breed instead of cull.
    “We looked at the first lactation of cows at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and compared PTA values of them with the rest of the herd,” Atkins said. “The results were consistent for the bottom 25 percent, but much higher than that and it’s harder to place your top-tier animals.”
    Another way to manage the herd is by reduction of days on feed.
    “Calves have a negative cash flow for about two years and cost $2.50-$3 a day,” Atkins said. “If we can reduce the number of days they’re on feed by earlier pregnancy rates, we can save on costs.”
    While there are variables in raising replacement stock, by being aware of production costs and inventory dairy farmers can best plan for the future of their herd.