Heifer Survival
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Gain a net farm income advantage with thriving heifers

November 12, 2018
POSTED BY: Mike Lormore | DVM, MS, MBA | Director | Cattle Technical Services | Zoetis

Two months isn’t a lot of time, but it can make a big difference for profitability. In fact, getting heifers pregnant two months earlier can result in an additional $200 to $250 in lifetime net farm income per cow.1,*

Age at first calving is an important metric in terms of managing heifer inventories and is, therefore, important in helping minimize net herd turnover cost. Young stock health is paramount in allowing animals to grow properly so that they reach appropriate breeding age in a timely fashion. As such, it is no surprise that a recent study Zoetis conducted with Compeer Financial found that heifer survival rate is one of the top six factors affecting dairy net farm income.2 The analysis of 11 years of herd data from 489 year-end financial and production-record summaries quantified the value of decreased heifer survival rates on lifetime net farm income. The top one-third of herds in this study achieved an earlier age at first calving of approximately two months compared with the bottom one-third of herds. This had a significant compounding effect on the number of animals in a herd over time, which contributed to an average of $200 to $250 in additional lifetime net farm income per cow.1,2 

Let’s look at a couple of ways you can help heifers not only survive but thrive like the top herds in the study.

Getting a higher heifer survival rate

It’s a no-brainer that a dairy needs heifers that survive to be profitable. Scours and bovine respiratory disease (BRD) are responsible for decreasing calf and heifer survival rates. Scours is the leading cause of calf death and sickness, responsible for 56.5% of mortality among pre-weaned dairy calves.3 Pneumonia during the first 90 days of a calf’s life is more likely to increase mortality before first calving.4

Vaccination of healthy pregnant cows and heifers with SCOURGUARD® or oral vaccine before colostrum uptake can help prevent death loss from scours. Along with this, proactive management — including a clean, dry calving area, optimal nutrition and minimizing exposure to environmental contaminants — is important to help prevent scours and ensure vaccine efficacy. To help prevent BRD, early detection of these respiratory disease symptoms and treatment with an antibiotic approved for use in calves, if needed, can help get health back on track.

Getting heifers that thrive

Guarding against these diseases is an important factor for lowering age at first calving and for future productivity as well. Calves that survive scours can face lifelong setbacks, including delayed growth, and are slower to reach the milking string as heifers.5 Pneumonia during the first 90 days of a calf’s life is more likely to increase their age at first calving, among many other challenges.4

Also, producers have a better chance to get heifers pregnant sooner by raising the right heifers. Raising heifers is expensive. Herd owners have reported spending between $1,860 and $2,263 for each heifer raised.At this cost, producers need heifers that have a better probability of adding value to a herd now and into the future. Genomic testing can help ensure the right heifers are being raised to pass on better traits to their offspring. 

Finally, getting heifers inseminated as early as possible can have an enormous impact on age at first calving. And, it will get them to the milking herd sooner. Read a few simple steps to improve your heifer reproduction program, including more timely pen moves, use of LUTALYSE® HighCon Injection (dinoprost tromethamine injection),  which is approved for use with EAZI-BREED™ CIDR® Cattle Insert (progesterone intravaginal insert), and routine pregnancy checks.

With heifers that survive and thrive on a dairy, the opportunity exists to increase net farm income and stay among the top one-third of dairy herds across the country.

Read more about three ways to get $200 to $250 more in lifetime net farm income per cow. To discuss how heifer survival or one of the other dairy financial drivers can play a role in driving better profitability for your dairy, contact your Zoetis representative

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR LUTALYSE HIGHCON: Women of childbearing age and persons with respiratory problems should exercise extreme caution when handling LUTALYSE/LUTALYSE HIGHCON. LUTALYSE is readily absorbed through the skin and may cause abortion and/or bronchiospasms, therefore spillage on the skin should be washed off immediately with soap and water. Aseptic technique should be used to reduce the possibility of post-injection clostridial infections. Do not administer LUTALYSE in pregnant cattle unless cessation of pregnancy is desired. See full Prescribing Information here

IMPORTANT SAFETY INFORMATION FOR EAZI-BREED CIDR: Avoid contact with skin by wearing protective gloves when handling EAZI-BREED CIDR inserts. Do not use in heifers of insufficient size or age for breeding or in cattle with abnormal, immature, or infected genital tracts. Do not use inserts more than once.

*Results based on average herd size of 1,087 from Zoetis/Compeer Financial study.

Lormore M. The case for a quality dairy replacement program, in Proceedings. NRAES Dairy Calves and Heifers: Integrating Biology and Management Conference, 2005.

Lormore M. What Drives Financial Success on a Dairy? Parsippany, NJ: Zoetis; 2018.

USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, National Animal Health Monitoring System. Dairy 2007: Heifer Calf Health and Management Practices on U.S. Dairy Operations, 2007. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/nahms/dairy/downloads/dairy07/Dairy07_ir_CalfHealth.pdf. Published January 2010. Accessed August 9, 2018.

Stanton AL, Kelton DF, LeBlanc SJ, Wormuth J, Leslie KE. The effect of respiratory disease and a preventative antibiotic treatment on growth, survival, age at first calving, and milk production of dairy heifers. J Dairy Sci. 2012;95(9):4950-4960.

Donovan AG, Dohoo IR, Montgomery DM, Bennett FL. Calf and disease factors affecting growth in female holstein calves in Florida, USA. Prev Vet Med. 1998;33(1-4):1-10.

Cornell University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Dairy Replacement Programs: Costs & Analysis 3rd Quarter 2012. https://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/36889/DairyReplaceCost12-3.pdf. Published February 2014. August 9, 2018.




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