CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — For many years, farmers have been encouraged to keep all heifer calves born on the farm. Then sexed semen came along and farmers are still raising all heifers born on the farm. It’s a good idea, right? Calves and heifers can get sick or injured and are either culled from the herd or die. So, it’s good to have extra on hand, right? It’s hard to decide which calves we would sell because we don’t know how they are going to grow and perform once they enter the milking herd. So, we better raise all the heifers, right? Wrong! Making smart decisions in your calf and heifer program when it comes to culling should be on the top of your priority list.
When it comes to deciding how many heifers to raise each year, you must decide the current state of your herd. Are you trying to downsize, expand, or are you at capacity and wish to remain the same? What is the goal for your farm next year, in five years, or even ten years down the road? Penn State Extension has several tools that can help you decide how many heifers your farm needs to meet your goals. If you have detailed DHIA reports, there is a heifer calculation worksheet that walks you through two equations using numbers from your 202 sheet such as calving interval, age at first calving, calf mortality, cull rate, and more. But remember, those numbers are only as accurate as the information that you share with your milk tester. The two equations represent how many heifers are produced annually on your farm and how many heifers that are actually needed on your farm. The difference in the equations determines the number of excess heifers that are currently being raised or how many are lacking. If technology is more your preference, well there’s an app for that too! The PSU herd metrics app available at: http://extension.psu.edu/animals/dairy/business-management/mobile-apps/psu-herd-metrics will walk you through the same calculations. You can even test “what if” scenarios by playing around with numbers. Either method will help you determine just how many heifers you should be raising on your farm.
So, you’ve done the calculations and realize you are raising too many heifers. Now what? Do you sell that heifer calf once she’s born or wait until she reaches breeding age? Maybe you want to wait until she enters the milking herd to see how she performs before making that decision? According to cash flow analyses summarized for 2016-2018 by Penn State and the University of Minnesota, the average cost to raise a heifer from birth through freshening was $2,025 with the range being $1,333 – $2,908. Current increases in many agricultural feeds and products have no doubt further increased those rearing costs. Remember that 73% of heifer raising costs are associated to feed. Studies have shown that it takes a heifer into her second lactation until she covers those rearing costs. So, you do the math. Most farmers are better off making those culling decisions once heifer calves are born or shortly after, so they do not incur those unnecessary rearing costs. Decisions can be made based on genetics, birth weight, illness, twins, etc. Some farms will choose to breed genetically inferior cows with beef semen and sell those calves once they are born regardless of sex. Take the time to pencil out the pros and cons and decide when those culling decisions make the most profitable choices for your operation.
Do you know how many heifers you need? Would you like help working through those calculations? Maybe you want to talk through scenarios that make the most sense for your farm. Perhaps you want to dive into your financials and see how much it actually costs you to raise your calves and heifers. Penn State Extension can help you with all these questions and decisions. Feel free to reach out to your local Extension Educator for more assistance. For more questions or help in anyway at: email@example.com or call: 717-263-9226.
–Penn State Extension