Two reasons to care about two-year-olds
By Mike Messman, Ph.D., Dairy Technical Services Manager, Cargill
1.Two-year-olds who peak low won’t ever catch up. Gavin Staley, a veterinarian and technical service specialist with Diamond V, finds that each pound of peak milk could be worth 200 to 250 pounds more milk for the whole lactation.
2. A herd cannot outperform the production standard set by the two-year-olds’ “ceiling.” Staley’s research shows a herd whose two-year-olds peak at 75 pounds will not be capable of reaching an average herd milk production of 85 pounds.
Ask yourself, are your first lactation heifers heightening or hindering production? Evaluate your first-lactation heifers’ peak milk by age and look for what we like to call the “Current Production Management Sweet Spot” or the age at first calving where your average peak milk is the highest. This may be older than the current goal you have set. After factoring in additional heifer-rearing feed costs, you may see this as an opportunity for your farm.
Milk production is your revenue. So, it makes sense to identify and solve lactating herd issues fast to maintain high milk production. In this case, research done by Mike Van Amburgh at Cornell University proves that age at first calving, average daily gain, and rumen development in calves are three of the main barriers affecting first lactation production.
If you have identified any of these focus areas as a challenge on your dairy, try implementing these key practices.
Invest in your calves.
Van Amburgh’s research found that calves who are fed a denser nutrient diet in the form of milk and milk replacer prior to weaning yielded over 950 pounds more milk after calving. Equally as important is a calf’s availability to fresh feed and water. Offering calves the right starter means giving them the digestible fiber, fermentable carbohydrates, and amino acids their rumens need to produce the nutrients for growth.
Improve heifer check-ups.
Healthy, growing calves are just part of the story. Keep the momentum up as she grows by hitting some key check points. 55% is the optimal weight for pre-breeding heifers, based on their respective mature body weights. A springer ready to calve should weigh 95% of its mature body weight, and at post-calving should weigh 85%. For reference, mature body weight is equal to a third-lactation cow who is 80 to 120 days in milk (DIM). A heifer’s milk production is reduced by seven pounds for every pound she still needs to grow to reach the 85% benchmark.
Optimize age at first calving.
Examining the lactation data of heifers will discern whether age at first calving goals match up with calf and heifer feeding programs. In a large herd data review, we’ve seen lifetime production differences of almost 8,000 pounds more for Holsteins that calved at 23 months rather than 21 months, and almost 11,200 pounds for crosses calving at 25 months rather than 21 months.
A Cargill team member can help you get your questions answered and goals met. Our consultants can analyze where your heifers are and design a HerdFirst® program that will focus on growing your calves to optimize their ages at first calving so your dairy business can thrive.