Cut costs without cutting corners

Jud Heinrichs, Professor of Dairy Science
Jud Heinrichs, Professor of Dairy Science

While dairy prices remain low, it could be tempting to cut corners to save money, especially when it comes to heifer production.

However, Professor of Dairy Science Jud Heinrichs, believes you can cut costs without cutting corners, this was his key message from the Heifer Rearing conference, hosted by Alltech E-CO2.

“Traditionally producers believe the more you put in the more you get out,” says Professor Heinrichs from Penn State University, but he urges farmers to ensure they’re optimising, not maximising feed intake, which can ultimately save money.”

Jud Heinrichs, Professor of Dairy Science

“Traditionally producers believe the more you put in the more you get out,” says Professor Heinrichs from Penn State University, but he urges farmers to ensure they’re optimising, not maximising feed intake, which can ultimately save money.

“In 2016, the strategy for rearing dairy heifers should be to calve them as young as reasonably possible. The feeding programme is fundamental in achieving this and growing heifers too fast or too slow can give rise to problems.

“By providing a precision feeding management system that stimulates rumen function and microbial digestion, it’s possible to ‘limit-feed’ heifers to 85 or 90 percent of total intakes, with access to feed for 12 to 14 hours per day, to achieve the same, but very often improved, growth rates,” says Professor Heinrichs.

He adds that farmers need to be aiming to breed heifers at 13 to 14 months and calve at 23 months of age at 85 to 90 percent of mature bodyweight.

“While heifers are in the rearing shed they’re costing you. If heifers aren’t serviced early enough and are calving beyond 26 months, they will not make you money and shouldn’t be destined for the milking herd.”

Precision heifer rearing turns heifer nutrition and management upside down and could help achieve these targets while reducing feed costs says Professor Heinrichs.

“Providing the feed is of good quality, you can feed less, and reduce the length of time they have access to forage, to enhance digestibility, feed-efficiency and ultimately daily weight gain.

“By three months of age, heifers have very well-functioning rumens and the key to improving digestibility, is increasing the length of time the feed spends in the rumen itself to give bacteria the opportunity to digest the feed properly. This can be achieved by limit-feeding, as ad-libitum feeding simply encourages a faster throughput.

“Not only is ad-libitum feeding wasteful in terms of lost calories through feed being poorly digested, the process of digesting the feed uses up calories, with 40 percent of maintenance energy required just to keep the digestive tract working. It’s therefore simply not efficient for heifers to have feed in front of them 24 hours a day.”

The key to successful implementation of a precision heifer feeding system is measurement explains Professor Heinrichs.

“Before beginning to limit-feed heifers, it’s vital to set a target mature weight. This enables you to calculate the daily liveweight gain needed to reach 55 percent of mature bodyweight at breeding, and 85 to 90 percent of mature bodyweight at first calving. Once the regime is under way, it’s important that the heifers are weighed, initially once a month, to ensure that they’re meeting expected daily liveweight gains.”