The Heifer Discussion

Today many producers’ philosophy with raising heifers is only keep the heifers you need.
Today many producers’ philosophy with raising heifers is only keep the heifers you need.
(Farm Journal)

The goal of producers is to raise heifer calves to fill their future pipeline. However, the increased cost associated with raising heifers has made us retool our thinking. Today many producers’ philosophy with raising heifers is only keep the heifers you need. Earlier management decisions are happening on dairies, with a more dialed-in, strategic breeding philosophy being adapted. While our Illinois dairy has also revised our breeding protocols, we still have room for improvement.

Our family dairy has increased the use of beef semen being served to our bottom-end cattle year-over-year. Recently, my husband, Scott, sighed when he learned all the calf hutches were full and four newborns needed a place to go. I kindly remind Scott that we only need so many heifer calves to fill the future pipeline.

Truth be told, Scott has a hard time breeding what is considered low-genomic-value cattle to beef. He often replies, “They are scored Very-Good or Excellent for a reason.”

While those low-genomic-value cattle have a place on our dairy, and on other dairies, too, I encourage producers, like my husband, to review the set protocols on which animals qualify for beef semen. Come up with a breeding game plan on how you handle those “VIP” cows.

Impacting Profitability

Our dairy has sold many surplus heifers, from open to bred heifers, to other dairies over the past decade. This has added a nice income to our bottom line, but with the increased cost associated with raising heifers, I’m not sold that we are truly getting our return on investment back. A heifer discussion is needed on our dairy. My guess is it wouldn’t be bad to revisit yours, too.

A Princess for a Princess

My daughter, Cassie, purchased a Jersey heifer calf in a junior-only sale back in 2014. At the age of 8, Cassie earmarked a few heifer prospects she liked after reviewing the catalog with her father. She ended up buying a heifer named Princess. Cassie’s Princess family has produced 20 heifer descendants. One of those descendants was recently sold in a pot load of surplus heifers that our farm sold to a Canadian herd last month.

The return on investment for Cassie has paid in spades. I’ll admit, sometimes the return on investment when raising heifer offers more than filling the future bulk tank or adding profit to the dairy’s bottom line. It also helps fund other projects, like a kid’s college savings account, or, to Cassie’s appeasement, her first car. 


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