Ruminant Articles on Heifer Management

Many Florida dairy farms purchase dairy heifers to replace their culled cows. The purchase price of a dairy heifer has varied the last several years from less than $1,000 to more than $2,000 per head. The major factors that determine the purchase price are the quality of the heifer and demand and supply. When heifer prices are higher than usual, many dairy producers question if they should purchase heifers now or leave the slots in the dairy facility (temporarily) vacant. This fact sheet discusses the factors that determine the maximum price a dairy producer can afford to pay now for dairy heifers when the dairy facility is not operating at full capacity. The approach outlined in this fact sheet is not directly appropriate for making decisions about replacing a cow with a heifer. However, the approach is appropriate when dairy facilities have expanded but are still vacant. Tax implications are ignored and not discussed.

The general guideline out of Cornell University is to have a growth goal for dairy calves of doubling their birth weight by 56 days of age. For example, a heifer calf that weighs 100 lb at birth should be fed a balance of nutrients in order to reach a weight of 200 lb by day 56. This means the calf must have an average daily gain (ADG) of 1.78 lb/day over that time period.

Raising dairy heifers to an adequate size and with an age at first calving between 22 and 24 months can optimize profitable milk production. This achievable goal requires proper nutrition and feeding management so heifers are large enough to breed at 13 to 15 months of age.

Raising dairy heifers from birth to calving comprises the second largest expense of milk production on the dairy farm—while deriving no revenue until the onset of lactation (Heinrichs, 1993). Therefore, many of the experiments involving dairy heifers have focused on ways to minimize costs associated with the growth period or to hasten onset of the productive period.