Heifer Rearing and Retention

Penn State University offers a new app that can help with decision-making.
Penn State University offers a new app that can help with decision-making.
(File Photo)

In today’s high-dollar feed and labor market, every dairy replacement heifer raised is a significant investment, and a decision not to be taken lightly.

To bring clarity to heifer-rearing and -retention decisions, Penn State University Dairy Extension has developed a web-based application that uses key metrics to help herds dial in on their heifer inventories.

The Penn State Dairy Herd Metrics Application starts by assessing a dairy’s herd goals – maintain herd size, expand, or downsize. Next, it uses data for herd size; average age at first calving; herd cull rate, calving interval, calf sex ratio; calf mortality, and heifer non-completion rate to formulate an estimation of the number of heifers a herd will need to retain annually.

The free app is accessible from any Windows, Android, or Apple computer, tablet, or smartphone with an internet connection.

Four basic steps walk you through the replacement-heifer-decision-making process:

Data Entry – The key herd metrics are entered here or retrieved from a stored scenario. A video also is included to help producers locate and/or calculate the specific metrics for their herd.

Inventory Graph – This feature graphically displays the entered metrics and their impact on the heifer population, as well as the lactating herd, and can visually show where bottlenecks may be occurring.

Saved Scenarios – The herd’s metrics can be saved in this section and then manipulated to simulate “what-if” scenarios. This is a valuable feature to see what might happen if one or more variables changes for the herd.

Assessing Economics – This section calls for a bit more data – including cull cow values and the current price for purchasing replacement heifers. It will then show the potential economic impact on the herd if too few, too many, or just the right number of heifers are retained. 

You can read an example demonstration of the app here and access the app itself here.

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