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Raising Heifers from Seven Months to One Year

After heifers reach seven months of age, good growth can be achieved without fattening by feeding an abundance of good quality forage along with an adequate amount of a simple grain mixture (14 to 16 percent crude protein). The same mixture being fed the milking herd is often satisfactory. If high quality forage is fed, heifers of the large breeds can be limited to four pounds of grain per day and those of the smaller breeds to three. When forage is of poor quality or in limited supply, grain feeding may need to be increased above these amounts.

Good quality silage or pasture may be the source of forage. Heifers on pasture should have free access to fresh water, iodized salt, a phosphorus mineral mixture such as steamed bone meal and dicalcium phosphate, and adequate shade and protection from flies. Heifers on poor pasture should be fed some hay or silage. When handled in groups of five or more, heifers should be about the same age and/or size.

Raising Heifers from 12 Months to Freshening

Heifers with normal growth through 12 months of age can be grown adequately to freshening age by feeding maximum amounts of good quality forage. Improved pasture, good quality hay and silage are all suitable forages for yearling heifers when fed alone or in combination.

For two-year-olds of adequate size, heifers should be kept growing continuously from birth to freshening. Suggested average daily gains from birth to two years are listed below.

Breed lb./day
Ayshire 1.2
Brown Swiss 1.4
Guernsey 1.1
Holstein 1.4
Jersey 1.0

To determine how well calves and heifers are being fed and managed, check growth rates periodically against a normal standard. If scales are not available, weights of dairy heifers can be estimated from heart girth measurements. Use a tape measure and place it around the heart girth just behind the front legs and shoulders. Make sure the animal is standing squarely on its legs and then draw the tape firmly to take the reading. Some feed companies have tapes that give a direct reading of the estimated weight of an animal.

Average weights and heart girth measurements of different breeds from birth through 21 months of age may be found in the following table. Because data are unavailable for Brown Swiss, Holstein guidelines should be used to check growth.

Age Holstein Ayrshire Guernsey Jersey
Mos. Inches Lbs. Inches Lbs. Inches Lbs. Inches Lbs.
birth 31 96 291/2 72 29 66 241/2 56
1 331/2 118 32 98 311/2 90 291/2 72
2 37 161 351/2 132 341/2 122 321/2 102
3 401/4 213 383/4 179 38 164 351/4 138
4 431/2 272 423/4 236 411/4 217 381/4 181
5 47 335 451/2 291 441/4 265 411/2 228
6 50 396 481/4 340 47 304 441/2 277
7 521/2 455 511/4 408 493/4 263 471/4 325
8 543/4 508 53 447 513/4 410 493/4 369
9 57 559 55 485 533/4 448 513/4 409
10 583/4 609 57 526 55 486 531/4 446
11 601/2 658 58 563 563/4 521 55 581
12 621/2 714 59 583 581/4 549 561/2 520
13 631/4 740 603/4 630 591/4 587 571/2 540
14 641/4 774 62 666 601/2 615 581/2 565
15 651/4 805 63 703 613/4 640 59 585
16 661/4 841 64 731 621/2 674 593/4 611
17 671/4 874 651/4 758 631/2 696 601/2 635
18 681/2 912 66 781 65 727 611/2 660
19 691/4 946 661/2 813 651/2 752 621/2 687
20 701/2 985 671/2 841 661/4 780 63 712
21 711/2 1025 681/2 885 671/2 816 64 740

Feeding Yearlings in Winter

Yearlings should have free access to good quality forage in the form of hay and/or silage. Heifers should consume two to two and one-half pounds of hay (or its equivalent in silage) per hundred pounds of body weight daily. To illustrate the conversion of silage to hay equivalent, two pounds of silage with a dry matter content of 45 percent or three pounds of silage with a dry matter content of 30 percent would equal one pound of hay equivalent.

The amount and protein content of the concentrate to be fed will depend on the kind, quality and amount of forage eaten and the condition of the heifers. In most instances, the grain mix fed the milking herd is suitable. When good quality forage is fed, a grain mix containing 10 to 12 percent total protein is adequate. When the forage is medium in quality, feeding two to four pounds of grain daily will generally produce satisfactory growth. Heifers that are thin and not growing well may need more grain to supplement their forage intake.

Feeding Yearlings in Summer

If an adequate amount of good quality pasture is available, yearling heifers will make good gains with little or no grain. When pasture is not available or is of poor quality, then yearlings should be fed the amounts of grain mix recommended for the winter months.

Yearling heifers need a plentiful supply of clean, fresh water all year long. A good supply of water in the pasture areas is very important. Heifers consume more pasture where water is readily available.

Provide heifers on pasture plenty of shade and salt. If any are receiving little or no grain, it is also advisable to provide a good calcium-phosphorus supplement such as steamed bone meal or dicalcium phosphate.

Effects of Over-Conditioning

Keep heifers in a good thrifty condition but not fat. Over-conditioning of heifers may impair their production as mature animals. The reasons for this are not fully understood. It has been theorized that 1) fatty deposits in the udder prevent development of some of the secretory cells; 2) over-conditioning reduces the ability of the cow to produce an adequate supply of the lactogenic hormone (responsible for initiation of production and persistency of production), preventing her from being able to express her true inheritance; and 3) the resulting additional body weight requires a greater amount of feed for maintenance. Some workers have also observed that the udders of cows over-conditioned as calves and heifers have a more meaty texture. As a result, the circulation of blood flow to and from the udder may be somewhat reduced.


When to Breed: In general, heifers that have made normal growth may be bred at 15 months of age. Dairymen may want to breed some heifers at an earlier age and others beyond 15 months to attain a balanced calving schedule.

For a guide on size and age to breed herifers, see the following table. Heifers should be bred according to body weight within the range of ages shown. Early breeding of well-grown heifers cobld allow up to an extra lactation, shorten the the "boarding" period and increase the overall efficiency of dairy production.

Breed Med Weight Age Mos. Post Calving Weight
Aryshire 600 12-15 800
Brown Swiss 750 12-15 1050
Guernsey 550 12-15 775
Holstein 750 12-15 1050
Jersey 500 11-15 750

Breeding heifers to avoid calving difficulty: Some Ohio dairymen breed heifers to beef bulls in an attempt to reduce difficulty at calving time. The size of the dam appears to have a greater influence on calf size than breed of sire, so this does not seem to be an effective practice. If followed, this practice would further reduce the number of replacements available annually.

The development of genetic rankings for calving ease gives dairymen an effective tool for reducing the incidence of calving difficulty in Holsteins. Rankings may be used to select the bulls with the lowest expected percent of difficult first carvings. Because many factors influence the ease or difficulty of a specific calving, these rankings cannot predict the outcome of each mating.

Feeding and care of the bred heifer: The bred heifer can be fed and handled in the same manner as other yearlings until the last two or three months of pregnancy. The last three months before an animal is due to calve is the period in which the unborn calf makes nearly two-thirds of its growth. Therefore, during this time a bred heifer may need extra nutrients for condition, growth of the fetus and her own growth. Heifers may require as much as 8 to 10 pounds of grain daily a few weeks before calving. On the other hand, they may need very little, if any, grain, depending on the quality of forage fed. The main precaution is to keep them from getting fat.

About four to six weeks before calving, the bred heifer may be housed with the milking herd. This permits her to become accustomed to the other cows and the new premises. Some dairymen run heifers through the milking parlor for a period before they calve. All these practices are aids in training the heifer in good milking habits.

Life-long milking habits are begun at the first milking. First-calf heifers should be handled gently and properly prepared to encourage rapid milking.

After lactation has begun, first calf heifers are still growing. Therefore, they need an extra allowance of protein and energy (grain) above the requirements for maintenance and milk production. This will allow them to milk to capacity and continue to grow.

Major Expenses

Feed is the major expense in raising dairy herd replacements. Feed costs, on the average, account for 60 to 65 percent of the total cost of raising replacements.

Other expenses included in the total cost are grouped under the following headings: labor, building and equipment costs, interest on investment in replacements, breeding fees, bedding and value of heifers at birth. Additional miscellaneous expenses are veterinary service, medicines, disinfectants, supplies, insurance, registration, telephone and electricity.

Chore labor directly related to raising heifers from birth to first calving ranges from 20 to 35 hours per heifer. When calculating costs, 30 hours is a good average figure to use for the large breeds and 25 hours for the small breeds in figuring labor costs. Labor is the second largest cost, accounting for 15 to 18 percent of the total rearing cost.

Bedding requirements from birth to two years of age (age at first freshening) average about a ton. Breeding. fees range from $10 to S20 per head, and interest on investment per heifer is currently being charged at the rate of 13 percent annually. Interest is calculated on total feed, miscellaneous, breeding and bedding costs. Charges for buildings (depreciation, interest, repairs, taxes and insurance—DIRTI) is calculated at 19 percent per year on an estimated $235 investment per calf (midyear life). Charge for equipment (DIRI) is calculated on an estimated $48 investment per calf (10-year life). If older buildings or those with no other use are used, this cost would be much lower. The same could be true for equipment costs.

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This page was last updated on November 16, 2002