Dairy Farming

For the dairy folks and/or beef folks with questions about udders, milk and mastitis.
J and L
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Postby J and L » Fri Apr 14, 2006 6:47 pm

Milkmaid, Just cut them off. We have done this for 30 years without any problems. It is part of our calfhood vac program at 4-6 months. This could be done earlyer as long as you can tell the correct ones to cut off.
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Postby milkmaid » Mon Apr 17, 2006 9:32 am

OK, I'll do that then...er, have my vet do that then. LOL. I'm a little hesitant about trying it first time. I'll watch him do these two calves and then in the future I'll do it myself.

So many things to do with heifers, getting them from bottle calf to springer! Start them, wean, vaccinate with 5-way and 8 way, revaccinate with those two, worm, make a vet appointment for bangs vaccinations, dehorn, remove extra teats, constantly watch the feed rations to make sure they're getting a proper diet, get them big enough to breed on schedule, breed, get them to settle...

hope selling them will be the easy part after all this! :lol: In the past I've always bought in the spring, sold in the fall, never wintered anything over and never dealt with heifers that were old enough to be cycling. Nowdays I'm wintering them over and trying to go from day old to first calf.

Now how about a thought provoking question? If you were to look at your heifer herd and were in a position to only keep the best heifers and sell the rest through a dairy sale...what would you be looking for in the heifers you'd be keeping? Body structure? and what exactly would be most important in body structure? feet/legs? body length/depth? Temperament? Fertility? Assuming, of course, that you had no idea which cows the heifers were out of and therefore how well the dam did or did not produce. I know some dairies keep track of who's who and others don't. Would how fast the calf grew - average daily gain - or how early they matured come into account in your decision?
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Basics needed to answer questions: age, weight, breed, sex. # affected vs # in group, feed type/amount, prior vaccinations, deworming, antibiotics, any recent changes....

More info = better answers.

J and L
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Postby J and L » Mon Apr 17, 2006 11:11 am

When we first bought our herd in 1978 the RHA was 11,900#, which was below the state average for the time. We soon realized that this was in great part because Jerry's dad did not keep track of which heifers were from which cows. In the fall he would have heifer buyers in and let them pick 10 heifers and put the rest in the herd. Of course they always took the best looking ones-- and good looks often come from genetic improvement-- so he was selling the production improvement as well. We started keep records and by the time the first identified heifers were springing realized that the herd was almost split 50-50 with half averaging about 12,000-# of milk and the other half 16,000+# of milk. We started selecting keepers based almost entirely on records and raised our RHA by over 1500#/year each next three years with no other changes in management-- and not all the keepers were pretty and some of the sold were gorgeous. The $100 less from the dealer for not pretty was easily made up for by getting more milk out of the ones we kept.

We figured production would keep us in business-- and give us time to breed ugly out. :D

As for looking at what a buyer might want, I have a problem answering here because we have never bought heifers from herds without records. Typically if I decide the cattle are worth buying I cut a deal to buy everything-- no sorting. This is, in large part, because my experiences have shown that the outside is not nearly as important as the inside:ie genetics-- 20+ years of AI-- and biosecurity. There is an old supposedly Indian saying that goes like this "If you want beautiful children, marry not the only fair maiden of the tribe." In otherwords, even a terrible herd will occassionally produce an exceptional looking or production heifer, so I've always looked for consistency within the herd for both milk and looks in making decisions.

Jockeys will always take pretty over records for small number sales because farmers like to see pretty in a group of heifers they buy and records may or may not be accurate. If they are buying only two or three they will likely be grouping them with others. For an experienced dairy buyer, "pretty" usually means the dairy character most of us associate with years of AI-- fairly tall, deep ribbed, legs more posty than not, solid center supports and proper teat placement. I would call these, particularly the feet and udder traits, the functional parts of a cow. BST can make a poor milker give milk but nothing can change legs that cannot take concrete, size that lacks feed capacity, an udder that is easily stepped on, or mastitis that comes from unit slippage caused by poor teat placement.

As a side, one year we had 9 heifers to sell and had 3 buyers look at them. Each buyer found "real problems" with one animal in the group-- and each buyer picked a different "problem" heifer LOL . We split the group and ended up with 2 less that totally pleased buyers but top prices for all :D . Dairy sales would be a great way to avoid having a jockey try to convince you that your animals are somehow lacking so you will accept less.

Years ago we did sell some flighty heifers with "mean" dams simply because we figured that someone with a conventional parlor could milk them with less risk than us in a stall barn. Once that couple of lines were gone we haven't had a problem. I do believe that a parlor of any type makes it clear to the cows that when they enter the area they will be touched, etc. In the stall barn the rest area was the same as the milk area and easily startled heifers were more likely to react to someone entering "their" space.

Sorry I can't be of more help-
Linda
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Postby milkmaid » Mon Apr 17, 2006 2:39 pm

Oh that does help a lot Linda :D Thanks for taking the time to give me a lengthy response like that.

I'm thinking about taking a trip one of these days to Jerome to watch the dairy sale. I've never been down to watch it and I want to see what sort of heifers they are that bring the top money down there. So far I've just been going by the rumors, and most of them say BIG SPRINGERS bring the good money. 1200lbs plus. I'm sure conformation plays a part in who sells high and who doesn't...what I hope to gain from watching the sale is exactly WHAT people are looking for.

I'm assuming you've watched the dairy sales before. Would you know if it's ever announced going through the ring if the springer in question is vaccinated (with something other than bangs), out of a known dam with known production records, maybe what sire the springer herself is by, um....how about what she's bred to? Or do they just run them through and you get what you see?

I have a heifer here that's short bred, and I have a vet appointment for next Friday for an ultrasound to determine if she's carrying a heifer calf or bull calf. If it turns out to be a heifer calf, I think that'd make her worth a lot more if it were announced going through the ring, right? Out of my younger stock - I have quite a few young heifers - I'd like to end up breeding them all with sexed semen and then follow it with an ultrasound to confirm the sex of the fetus. Seems to me that could significantly up their value IF and only IF the buyers will know about it.

And I do have something up my sleeve with the questions about retaining heifers...but that's another story for another post. LOL. ;-)

Fellow near me was theorizing on what age to have his heifers calving. Me personally, I'm raising them to maturity and therefore breeding and selling just as fast as I can get them there. (The bred heifer I mentioned above is 72 days bred today, 1200lbs, and turns 15 months old on the 21st of April.) I saw an article in one of the magazines - think it was Dairy Herd Managment? - that said something about getting your heifers to calve at 24 months of age (not later!) and when I was browsing the DHI site it comes up that the average age of springers in my region is about 26.3 months or something like that.

Anyways, this fellow was theorizing that his heifers would produce better and hold up longer as cows if they were given MORE time to mature before having their first calf. He was holding his heifers out to 28-30 months before their first calf. (Of course I asked him to tell me, sometime in the future, how this experiment turns out.) I know I've seen the articles about how growing too fast reduces production in the first lactation. I'll have to take a pen and paper to it someday and see which way comes out most economical - calving early, at 21 months or less and getting the heifers into production sooner but getting lower production as a result, OR calving at 24-26 months same as most folks standardly do and getting the best production. I'd have to have a really good reason to be holding heifers out longer than 24 months before their first calf. Sooner they can pay back their cost the better off I am.

You have any thoughts or opinions on that subject above?

I'm off to work now - thanks again Linda!
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Basics needed to answer questions: age, weight, breed, sex. # affected vs # in group, feed type/amount, prior vaccinations, deworming, antibiotics, any recent changes....

More info = better answers.

J and L
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Postby J and L » Mon Apr 17, 2006 10:12 pm

Lots of experience on this one.

First....There is only one correct answer to "What age should heifers freshen?" .......... and that is "It depends."

This is another area where there are many choices so having knowledge about YOUR operation and how your choices will effect it is critical. For any operation, profit is gross income minus expenses. Expenses are determined by input costs and the key inputs with heifers are feed, labor, and housing. The input that is shortest will be the factor that limits you heifer raising. Remember to include interest as an expense. If you are not borrowing you could be using the opportunity to invest your money elsewhere-- and interest you are not earning is a cost of keeping the money in feed, animals, etc. Look to what you could make on 2-5 year CDs for the rate to use.

In all cases you need to consider what the "best use" is for the inputs you have.

Maximizing income is different for selling heifers than it is for milking your own heifers. You are counting on only the value of the springer, not on the potential income from milk like we would.

We've played our heifer hands several different ways over the years, so the easiest way I can answer this is to tell what we've done and why.

When we were in the stall barn we had only 54 spots for cows and did not want to switch cows so maximizing income with stalls as the limiting factor meant bigger #/cow. To do this we wanted, within reason, for heifers to be well grown and ready to give big milk in the first lactation and we tended to average have 25-26 months to freshening. We had enough space to house 60-65 heifers (27 months worth) and had enough feed and enough labor too. On the down side, we found that mature-cow sized heifers-- those over 27 months-- were more likely to have calving problems. Our vet told us that heifers that were bigger and older when bred had the capacity to grow a bigger calf and that with age they had less flexibility in their pelvic area. That was a receipe for problems and occasionally we lost production (or lost the heifer) because of freshening issues.

When we hit some drought years, buying at high feed prices became the limiting factor and freshening older heifers showed to be more expensive than the gain, so we ratcheted the age down to a solid 24 months.

After our third (and last lol) baby, labor became the limiting factor. We decided that the best way for the two of us to manage was to freshen semi-seasonal-- trying for the bulk of the animals to freshen March-May and Sept-Nov. That had us holding off breeding to get them into our "windows" and put us back to the 25-26 month age. Using the "windows" let us stop freshening in the winter months when an injured heifer meant a culled heifer so we had a couple more springers to sell each year.

In '93 we went through our first phase of expansion. Our game plan changed-- we had surplus room for milkers and proportionally less room and labor for heifers. Using feed for milk returned the best money so getting the heifers in ASAP became a priority so we changed the "window" to exclude only Dec 20- March 1 and aggressively bred for less than 24 months freshening. Cheap corn and concentrates meant that we could push growth and get them in at 1250# early. We freshened animals as young as 21 months ith a minimal anount of trouble.

Like most freestall operations we are perpetually trying to grow milking numbers so we start breeding at 13 months. Freestalls offer the flexibility of having more than one animal per stall so we now look at # shipped/milking stall/year as one of our measurements. Young animals give a bit less milk but balance that with handling overcrowding well so the milk/stall stays high and freshening younger also gets them to that second laction where really big milk can kick in. Cost wise, if space for milkers is not limited, getting those girls milking early usually means more profit over the life of the animal. With solid rations heifers can grow while milking well and get into their second lactation by 36 months of age. and because cows produce more in the first 1/3 of their lactations, the more "first thirds" she has over a lifetime, the more milk she will produce. Waiting an extra 6 months to freshen at 28-30 months forfits 6 months of milking time (1/2 of a lactation) and what could be 1/2 of another calf in her lifetime. For our operation, I can't pencil out waiting on purpose.

Since '93 we have typically held repeats and bred some early to avoid the Dec 20-March 1 window so our average conception age tends to move over the course of the year.

This year the parlor will not be completed until September. We held off on breeding about 15 heifers (26 month freshening) and have bred about 20 heifers for 21-22 month freshening to maximize a Sept-Nov freshening window. So the "average" looks like 24 months... but the management getting there is strategic. We are now in our non-breeding window (except for the clean-up bull.)

For your operation: how much do you figure it will cost to raise your girls? How much per day is the feed for a 1200# animal? Remember that the bigger the animal the more expensive it becomes to add weight because you have more animal to maintain.
As for the sexing-- yes animals with heifers could be worth more-- most likely to someone you know because they will trust your records. At smaller auctions, announcing that certain of your heifers carry females implies that those not announced carry bulls.... so you might want to consider that in choosing where or when you sell what. (Maybe send only known female embryos to one sale and unannounced (ie:male) to the next.)

Be sure to look at the costs carefully. Look at the marginal return for the increased number of female embryos. If sexed semen has a lower conception rate you will be selling older heifers on the average as you will have more repeats-- so you will have increased inout costs for semen, feed and labor on each group. These costs should be allocated only to the female embryos above 50% because theoretcially you could get 50% without the increased costs that come with sexed semen.

Also remember that while sexed semen may have a 85-90% heifer rate as an average, averages are made up of random streaks of bulls and heifers over time so it is possible to get 50/50 or less even on sexed semen in small lots.Always look at worse case scenerios as real possibilities and only bet what you can afford to lose. (so what happens to profitability if you will get is 4 heifers and 7 conceptions from a rack of 10 --will you still break even or can you afford the loss?)

Vet expenses are big. Having 50 heifers to check at one time has alot less cost than 5 so the choice might be different at different numbers.Our vet has a $25 call charge and $80/hour so pg checking one heifer would cost at least $45 (assuming that she was caught up and cooperative-- 15 min including clean up and set up)

Our decisions might change again in time too. Last year when we were making the decision between expand and hold steady we looked at using fetal sexing in choosing which cows we or heifers we would sell to keep numbers down. We would then have moved the expansion to 2008 when all of those heifer embryos would freshen. I can forsee us doing this in the future. (Another reason to buy only whole herds lol. If they want to sell selectively I might get only bulls calves!!!)

You definitely have the right ideas for selling your heifers--- knowing who your potential buyers might be is very important as is the knowing which months will have the best demand. (November will demand higher prices than January so a 1200# Nov freshener might sell for as much and thus be more profitable than a Jan. 1300#.) If you have a reliable buyer who trusts your records you might want to use sexed semen for 1st service at 13-13.5 months and less expensive semen after that to keep your average age and thus average expense down. (female calves are smaller ie: easier calving & the knowledge of a heifer calf might make the size "penalty" less.) Be sure to look at all costs. Remember that records are only worth something if the buyer trusts them. And most importantly, keep reviewing your decisions because today's best options are not necessarily tomorrow's, next months, or next year's (so we have learned).
You've just completed Dairy Business 101 from the school of hard knocks lol. :D
Linda
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Postby milkmaid » Tue Apr 18, 2006 9:15 pm

Hi again Linda, and thanks so much for the response! So much "food for thought" there! :D How about a couple more questions? ;-)

What are your thoughts as to the ideal weight to breed heifers, and what do you try to get as a average daily gain?

You mentioned that November springers sell better than January...why? any other months that sell better or worse? This far in advance I can certainly plan things so that they're selling in the best months if I know which they are.

Another thought. How many services do you feel it ought to take before a heifer settles? I've probably been reading the opinions of the beef folks on here too much - fertility is one of the most important traits in their book and a heifer had better settle within 2 services. Three max. or she's gone. (Obviously no one does that with dairy, LOL!)

And how about cows? Was reading in one of my magazines that so-and-so dairy farmer had always had a 20% conception rate and so he was concerned when it dropped down to 16% (and the reasons for that were listed later in the article) -- but anyways, 20% conception???

Again, I must be listening to the beef folks too much. LOL. 20% is what, average of 5 services per cow? or am I reading that wrong? I figure a cow shouldn't take more than 3 services. But then I may have been spoiled with my little herd. 311 settled first service. 162 settled first service. Heifer settled 2nd service. And yes...that's all I've dealt with so far. Maybe my "herd" has spoiled me? Opinions on that?

Interesting thoughts on how I could be investing the money elsewhere if it wasn't tied up in the calves. True. The first two calves, back when I was 10 y/o, were the only ones I ever borrowed money for (from my parents) to buy. Ever since then it's all been my own time, money, and work. So I could be using all this money on other ways...I guess. Can't quite contemplate NOT having the calves around and just sitting down watching my money increasing (or not) while I do almost nothing. LOL.

Appreciate your answers and time, as always. :)
MM
Last edited by milkmaid on Sat Apr 29, 2006 5:03 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Basics needed to answer questions: age, weight, breed, sex. # affected vs # in group, feed type/amount, prior vaccinations, deworming, antibiotics, any recent changes....

More info = better answers.

J and L
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Postby J and L » Sat Apr 22, 2006 5:04 pm

Milkmaid-- I haven't forgotten you! It's been a bit hectic here with bids coming in and construction starting. Jerry is also into moving and fieldwork. Next week it should start to ease off.
Linda

EDITED BY JERRY
I am not moving! But I have been moving dirt and mowing lawn.
Jerry
Last edited by J and L on Mon Apr 24, 2006 8:07 am, edited 1 time in total.
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milkmaid
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Postby milkmaid » Sat Apr 22, 2006 8:45 pm

:) That's fine, I figured you were probably busy as I hadn't seen much of you around the boards. Figured you'd be back eventually. And I can understand busy, LOL...boss is out of town right now so that word sure defines my life at the moment!

I'm going to go back and edit the previous post and remove the pictures - I'll just put them on a different thread on this board. Whenever you have time for a response...it would be greatly appreciated. ;-)

Edit...LOL at Jerry's response. :lol: :P
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Basics needed to answer questions: age, weight, breed, sex. # affected vs # in group, feed type/amount, prior vaccinations, deworming, antibiotics, any recent changes....

More info = better answers.


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