3 Key Strategies to Developing Heifers
A healthy heifer is a productive heifer, and an ongoing relationship with a herd veterinarian is important in maintaining herd health and heifer development.
When Dr. Corale Dorn, a veterinarian from Dell Rapids, South Dakota, visits dairy operations to offer management advice and assist in developing protocols, she relies on the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association’s (DCHA) Gold Standards.
These standards set the bar for proper animal care when rearing dairy calves and heifers in the United States and include guidelines for colostrum management, housing, nutrition, handling, transportation, vaccinations, drug therapies, parasite control, supportive care, and euthanasia.
“I have the DCHA Gold Standards laminated and take them with me when I go to a dairy farm to evaluate a group of heifers,” said Dorn.
She said the guidelines provide a benchmark for producers to rely on as they set goals for their operations.
“My job as a veterinarian is to evaluate the goals of the dairy farm and later determine if they have achieved the goals we wanted to hit,” explained Dorn. “If we did, great. If we didn’t, then we need to look at things like consistency, quality, and cleanliness to see if we can make changes or improvements in those areas.”
Dorn breaks down how consistency, quality, and cleanliness can foster a healthier environment for developing and growing heifers:
Dorn says it’s important to ask the tough questions, which can ultimately help in achieving performance benchmarks, including:
- “What records do we have?”
- “What are we doing really well?”
- “What do we need to improve on?”
- “What is our average growth rate?”
- “Is everything where we want it to be?”
- “Is our nutrition adequate?”
Record keeping, she says, can help producers identify problems and quickly correct issues. Additionally, good records allow for producers to review vaccination records. DCHA Gold Standards recommend that producers keep handwritten and/or computerized records of all treatments.
Dorn says optimal nutrition from birth to freshening is the most important component to developing heifers. While growth is a top priority during this important phase in a dairy heifer’s life, so is maintaining optimal gut health to ward off sickness.
“Nutrition really follows the heifer calf two years down the road when a producer is trying to figure out why they aren’t getting enough milk out of that animal,” said Dorn. “Even a single dose of antibiotics when the heifer is a calf can stunt milk production and growth. This is because it impacts normal microflora, and that’s where prebiotics can play an important role.”
Scientifically proven and supported by 733 research trials, BOS-MOS® is a prebiotic derived from a specific strain of yeast that helps to promote animal performance by feeding the gastrointestinal tract for gut integrity and a strong immune system.
“When we look at the role of products like BOS-MOS, we know the prebiotics work to increase the villa inside the intestines, which allows the heifer to better absorb nutrients, grow faster and avoid disease,” said Dorn.
When Dorn visits dairy farms for a scour outbreak, she evaluates the housing and pens to see if any improvements or changes can be made to help fix the problem.
“When we get a call about scours, it usually means the producer has already tried some things that aren’t working,” said Dorn. “It’s then that we come take samples, do a sanitation evaluation and work to identify the problem.”
DCHA guidelines recommend clean housing for calves and replacement heifers of all ages, with 6–10 inches of dry bedding, good air quality, skid-free footing surfaces, clean waterers, and cleaned and well-maintained pens between groups of heifers.
For additional tips for developing and growing heifers, check out Alltech’s Dairy eGuide.