Share

Replacement Heifers - Needs and Availability, Costs and Returns

Posted: January 24, 2008

Glenn A. Shirk, Extension Dairy Agent, Lancaster, Pa.
March 29, 2002

Heifers are a major cost of producing milk. They also are our herds of the future. Because of this, many progressive producers like to get their heifers to calving weight by about 23 months of age. This can reduce the cost of getting them to calving age, plus it also provides a quicker return on their heifer investment. Many producers also like to upgrade their herds with genetically superior heifers, and they like to have a few extra heifers to merchandise for top dollar.

The number of replacements needed and their costs are affected by a number of factors, such as: deaths, cattle culled, cattle sold for dairy purposes, age at first calving, changes in herd size, and etc.

The number of replacements needed nearly doubles as you move from a 23-month calving interval and a 25% cull rate to a 27-month calving interval and a 40% cull rate. For a 100 cow herd, the size of the replacement herd needed can vary from 56 to 106, as shown in Table 1. That also means you will need almost twice as much feed, twice as much labor, and twice as much housing, all of which increases the cost of producing milk.

The more heifers you need for replacements the fewer you have left to merchandise; that can be a tremendous loss of income, especially at today's heifer prices. With a 14-month calving interval and a 30% cull rate, that could be as much as $8,000 per year in a 100-cow herd that has 5 extra heifers for sale (see Tables 2 and 3). If the cull rate, in this situation, climbs to 40%, it may be impossible to maintain herd size without purchasing some replacements. Instead of selling heifers for a "nice chunk of change" you now find yourself in a situation where you have to "cough up" nearly $6,000 to buy needed replacements. In this situation, the $8,000 potential income turned into a $6,000 replacement bill; that totals up to be a double whammy cost of $14,000! Or, you could hang on to some problem cows and " poor doers" longer than you had anticipated - - not a pleasant nor profitable choice.

The key question is, what do herd replacements cost you per cwt. of milk shipped? It can vary from less than $1.00 to more than $3.00. A 4,000 lb. change in milk production per cow can change this cost by 25 to 35 cents per cwt. of milk. The cost can drop from about $3.00 to about $1.50 per cwt of milk when calving age drops from 27 months down to 23 months and cull rates drop from 40% down to about 25%, as illustrated in Table 4. Increasing calving age by 4 months can increase this cost over $1.25 per cwt.

Increasing calving age by 4 months could also add another $250 to the cost of raising a heifer to calving age. It also makes you wait 4 more months for that $1,000 of additional milk income that a heifer would have made had she calved earlier. If you are calving out 30 heifers per year that means you are waiting 4 additional months for a $30,000 return on recovering the cost of raising heifers. You can calculate these results for your own herd on a spread sheet that can be downloaded from the Capital Region Dairy Team web site at: http://capitaldairy.cas.psu.edu/.

 

Table 1. Size Heifer Herd Needed to Support 100 Cows
Age at First Calving
Cow
Removal
Rate
Average
Years
Milked 22 Mo 24 Mo 26 Mo 28 Mo 30 Mo
0.20 5.0 41 45 49 53 57
0.25 4.0 51 56 61 66 71
0.30 3.3 62 68 74 79 85
0.40 2.5 82 90 98 106 114
0.50 2.0 103 113 123 132 142
Table 2. Excess and Shortage of Heifers Annually vs. Needs per 100 Cows
Calving Interval
Cow
Removal
Rate
Heifers
Needed
per Year 12 Mo 13 Mo 14 Mo 15 Mo 16 Mo
0.20 20 21 17 15 12 10
0.25 25 16 13 10 8 5
0.30 30 12 8 5 3 1
0.40 40 2 -1 -4 -7 -9
0.50 50 -7 -10 -14 -16 -18
Table 3. Heifer Sales and Purchases per 100 Cows (negatives are purchases)
Calving Interval
Cow
Removal
Rate
Heifers
Needed
per Year 12 Mo 13 Mo 14 Mo 15 Mo 16 Mo
0.20 20 31,146 26,231 22,051 18,452 15,320
0.25 25 24,270 19,254 14,996 11,335 8,154
0.30 30 17,394 12,277 7,941 4,218 987
0.40 40 3,641 -1,677 -6,170 -10,016 -13,347
0.50 50 -10,111 -15,631 -20,280 -24,250 -27,680

 

Table 4. Heifer Costs
Calving age 22 Mo 24 Mo 26 Mo 28 Mo 30 Mo

Heifer cost at calving

1,045 1,172 1,300 1,428 1,555
x cow cull rate 0.20 0.25 0.30 0.40 0.50
Heifer cost / cow / yr 209 293 390 571 778

 

Heifer cost / cwt. milk produced:

19,000 lb. per cow 1.10 1.54 2.05 3.01 4.09
21,000 lb. per cow 0.99 1.40 1.86 2.72 3.70
23,000 lb. per cow 0.91 1.27 1.70 2.48 3.38

 

Milk income delayed per heifer when heifers calve after 22 months of age:
19,000 lb. per cow 0 247 742 1,236 1,730
21,000 lb. per cow 0 273 820 1,366 1,913
23,000 lb. per cow 0 299 898 1,496 2,095