Heifer economics is a very interesting and important issue,

especially today, when grains are so expensive.

Good heifer management will lead to the appropriate investment, for this incredibly important section of management.

For some strange reason, not enough emphasis is placed on this sector, and heifers freshen between 26-29 months, effecting effective milk production, as well as feed costs for the heifers. There is often the need to look at the facts, and financial environment, and make decisions, that are different to every day management, and that you feel that you don’t have the time for.

I believe that this is another one of these opportunities. The financial environment for dairy farmers is ripe for better management, grain prices are through the roof, milk prices are not equivalent, and as farmers we have to carry the brunt. Now we can complain about it, or we can look at the situation as an opportunity, and check ourselves on all sectors of the farm, and check that we are managing our expenses as efficiently as possible. In this article I wish to concentrate on our heifer management, and supply the questions and tools to answer these questions,

Now there are many people who have decided to leave the sector, for personal financial reasons, I on the other hand feel that this environment must be seen as an opportunity, an opportunity to get ourselves in check, prioritize effectively, and concentrate in affective investment in our herd. Investing on our heifer herd, can influence our feed expenses by 5-10%. Normal feed expenses can range between 15-20% of herd feed expenses, and obviously we need to push for the lower rate, or if possible reach for even greater savings. This is possibly one of biggest places to save money, and requires the least effort to check our results.

Financial Considerations

Raising replacement heifers correctly is a very important investment. We need to remember, that the miss-management of this practice, can account for 15-20% of our milk production costs. Raising, or growing heifers to freshen at an age that is older than the desired 22-24 months, increases operating costs, and decreases affective milk production of the herd.  The raising of replacement heifers can be considered as the second or third biggest expense after feed costs, competing very favorably with labor costs. We do not often look at this practice as a separate component, in its own right, and as a result, these astronomic costs get hidden amongst all other expenses. So my suggestion, is to take the opportunity, separate these specific costs, and assess them for what they are, REPLACEMENT HEIFER COSTS.

                Costs of raising Heifers efficiently can be divided into these two specific considerations:

  1. Herd Morbidity
  2. Age at first calving and herd replacement rates.
    1. This question can be answered by strategy, if the business has had the freedom to make this decision, compared to actual reality on the farm.

We need to highlight the full expenses:

  1. Ownership costs.
  2. Direct Operating costs.
    1. Feed costs
    2. Labor costs
    3. Veterinarian costs.
    4. Rent?
    5. Morbidity.
    6. Mortality (at or after birth)

Management awareness.

                The control and management of calf Morbidity and or Mortality, is a factor of such financial consequence, that it is often necessary to raise and maintain a much larger herd than desired, just to maintain a healthy herd turnover rate. This factor alone, can add a good percentage of unnecessary expenses to the herd costs, and must be directly assigned to Heifer Economics.

It is known that most calf Mortalities at birth, (less than 24 hrs after birth) occur at times when there is no supervisory presence at the calving pen, this normally occurs in the night, and it is a difficult decision to add labor expenses to cover this loss, it is on the other hand, an area of management that is easy to assess, and without much effort, it becomes quite obvious how this loss influences the necessary size your herd needs to be, just to maintain stability.


 Morbidity or mortality after 24 hrs, are related directly to calf raising protocols, and management of the calf raising period. This starts with a good herd vaccination program, Colostrum management, Calf area cleanliness, and appropriate nutrition and care for the newborn. The appropriate preventative measures also need to be taken, throughout the weaning period, and of utmost importance, record all information, birth size, colostrum feeding, health changes, weaning age and weight. This practical information can be used to assess the financial ramifications of this growth period. It need not be said, that good calf health control, will positively influence the reduced heifer raising costs.


Feeding management obviously has a huge influence on operating costs, and even though I always see the heifers as an important Investment expense, till they produce their first liter of milk, they are no more than friendly parasites. They need to be fed appropriately, with age and weight specific quantities, as well as affordable raw materials. Don’t feed them blindly, to manage them correctly, feed them what they need, and keep the losses to a minimum. Raw materials, especially roughages can be of different qualities and prices, make sure that you feed the best roughage, at the most affordable price.


Water has approximately 75% influence on feed efficiency, the heifer requires free availability of good quality water, that is fresh, cool and tasty. This essential product assists ruminating animals  with all essential body functions. This high percentage influence is considered the most unappreciated nutrient we supply for our livestock, water them well from as early as possible, and they will give you their full potential, happily!!


Water constitutes 60 to 70 percent of a livestock animal’s body. Water is necessary for maintaining body fluids and proper ion balance; digesting, absorbing, and metabolizing nutrients; eliminating waste material and excess heat from the body; providing a fluid environment for the fetus; and transporting nutrients

to and from body tissues. Dairy cattle get the water they need by drinking and consuming feed that

contains water, as well as from metabolic water produced by the oxidation of organic nutrients. Water loss from the body occurs via urine, feces, and milk; through sweating; and by evaporation from body surfaces and the respiratory tract. The amount of water lost from a cow’s body is influenced by the animal’s activity, air temperature, humidity, respiratory rate, water intake, feed consumption, milk production and

other factors.

For the sake of feed efficiency, it would not be too bold too suggest, that good quality water will aid in feed efficiency in our calves and heifers, and as such increase growth efficiency per kg DM fed, and as a result save money.

Below find a table for feed requirements per day, according to weight targets and age .


Feeding Targets.


There are some aspects of calf and heifer raising that can be more efficient than others. Many farms can benefit by reducing some cost     components in their replacement program without reduction in heifer quality. The following is a listing of some areas that should be considered

as potential cost saving areas for heifer raising on most farms:-

  1. Feed the cheapest form of milk to calves, waste or powder, they are always cheaper than marketable milk.

Depending on a variety of aspects available to the farmer, changing from whole milk to other liquid feeds can be cost effective. Milk replacers are often about 50-60 percent of the cost of feeding whole milk, if salable milk is fed. Where farms are set up for feeding waste

milk and colostrum in a safe and easy manner, this can be even more cost effective. Waste milk systems are not without problems or increases in

management, however many farms can manage the problems that arise.  If the farm has environmental mastitis problems, then it is advisable to pasteurize the milk, if not, then it is not as necessary. Never the less, pasteurization can never do any harm to the milk, it might just cost a little  extra.


2. Feed high quality and palatable concentrates to younger animals. It is very important to get this correct, unbalanced low protein concentrates,        always end up more expensive in the long run, than well balanced professionally produced pellets.

3. Analyze forages and run ration formulations for all major groups. Higher protein contents for calves and younger heifers, with lower protein levels for older heifers.

4. Monitor group size and age/weight variation within groups. What you cannot record, you cannot assess, not to mention manage.

5. Use proven feed additives to improve growth and feed efficiency. Again, I always prefer a power pellet, with all requirements closed into a one bite solution.

6. Keep weight gains steady at 800g  per day before nine months of age and approx 900 g per day after nine months of age.


Feed high quality and palatable concentrates to younger animals.

This means feeding the best quality calf starters and calf growers to the young calves. A high quality starter, one with no mold, no dust, with a good texture, high levels of nutrients, and plenty of molasses and or flavoring agents, will make a dramatic impact on early starter and dry matter intake. Optimizing starter intake will allow calves to grow at higher rates of gain and will allow for earlier weaning ages.

Typically, calves need 1kg  of Concentrate per day for at least three days prior to weaning. Once weaned, calves require significantly less labor and if they continue to grow at rapid rates, will be much more economical per kg of gain then when fed liquid diets.


There is more than enough information out there to set solid targets for the efficient growth of our calves, this ranges from consultants, to internet graphs and information. When you manage to raise your animals according to match the growth charts, they are then growing efficiently, the only important point to take note of, especially after 4 months, is the cost of the menu. Using low cost good quality roughages, can influence the cost of raising incredibly.

Manage the age groups properly, highlight age specific needs, and keep records of all menu’s fed.  



 Birth weight = 40 kg

Weight gain 750 gr./day


Age Months

DM in % of Body weight

 DM needed

 Body Weight


















































Always attempt to cost the raw materials at market price, to make your feeding prices as accurate as possible, this is because you may be able to     sell roughage at a high price, and buy roughage at a cheaper price to feed the heifers.

Set clear targets and goals for heifer development, with emphasis on management and control.

The table below is an example of the type of plan is necessary, connected to set of targets and goals, which, according to experience in the field, are feasible as well as achievable.





Calf Raising

35Kg Gained weight, 1 kg 20% protein concentrate consumption by weaning.

60 days

Calf Page

Record everything

Create calf records

Colostrum Bank

Quality Colostrum control, Tested and Managed for freshness.

Give calves best antibodies possible

Milk Feed Program

Labor saving, minimize costs.

Controlled feeding

Concentrate feeding

Feed the best quality concentrate as a starter feed, supplying all the nutritional and Microelements necessary for quality development.

Consumption of 1kg 20% Protein starter Concentrate by weaning.

Vit. ADE Selenium Protocol

Adjust micro-element needs 

Healthier calves

2-4 month protocol

Continued max. growth. Maximum ruman development, best quality hay / Alfalfa, and high protein % concentrate, to maintain rapid growth rate, as well as maximum Ruman development.

Rumen Development

6-8 month Protocol

Feed extra protein/energy

Maximize Sex organ and udder development

13 month

Body weight 360kg / Height 120cm . Monitor  Heifer heats.

Reach appropriate size for insemination

14 month

Start insemination

First insemination 14 months with 78% success

4-2 months prior to birth

Affordable menu, feed control, nutrition support. Mix with dry cows, to ease transition into herd prior to birth. Proper close-up preparation, to minimize post partum problems.


1st birth

23-24 months

Earlier return of investment


I believe that with the program, which is pro-active in its Protocols, will help establish the management procedures that will make running the Farm a lot more efficient. Procedures help create good management habits, and help the staff understand what is expected of them. They are designed for the manager to train a regularly labor force, into an extraordinary team, all knowing and understanding what is expected of them, and what the Targets and Goals of the Business are!

The plan is to add new targets as we improve, and to constantly look for areas of excellence. As time goes by, and old problems are dealt with, we will notice new problems show their heads, and call for creative solutions. All these solutions are used and well tested, and normally need some fine tuning for each specific facility, but as we already saw, this is possible, and necessary.

Age at first Calving

This is a huge factor; the amount of money lost by having our heifer’s calf after 24-25 months is enormous. Every month requires another feeding month, 15.5kg’s of D.M. per day, and still no pay back in milk. That is more than 470kg D.M. extra per month, together with the early milk production of 25l per day, and that is an extra loss of at least income of 760 liters per month. There are articles out there that proclaim, that late births result in an increase in lactation production, they do not however assess the cost of 1st lactation, from calf birth, to first dry. The cost factor, especially with the high cost of grains in the world market demand better management of calf raising.  As farmers in this era, look more to efficient feeding habits, controlling quantities fed, and minimizing waist. If our heifers are over fed, they will grow into fat heifers, these will also struggle to fall pregnant, and as a result, we need to have more time for first birth.  Of course more time is more money, and again we find ourselves in the whirlwind extra cost of unwanted cost of feeding our future investment. If we don’t know the expected expense, then it is imperative that you sit down and work out how you can raise the future generation more efficiently.


There is plenty of money to be saved in growing our Heifers efficiently. All we need is clear Goals, with achievable Targets, that can be reached by managing our work protocols correctly!