Like Mother Like Daughter

Published on Fri, 03/29/2019 - 8:21am

 Like Mother Like Daughter

 By Bruce Derksen for American Dairymen Magazine

 Replacing older, un-productive cows with heifers that will meet or increase the overall value of the herd and contribute to its stability is a time sensitive and integral part of the dairy business.  To let the rebuild process deteriorate is to allow the watering down of the inclusive quality of the herd and will soon manifest itself in reduced financial rewards.

The goal must be to replace the deficient cow at the optimal time by substituting and hopefully improving their portion of the operation’s foundation.
There are environmentally and economically affected options when it comes to replacement heifers including selecting from the enclosed herd, selling home grown heifers and creating an option to buy them back later, contracting with a reputable farm for continuous purchase or buying outright from other producers.  To make the correct decision on a path moving forward, there are some questions that need answering.  Has it been a dry year and what is the availability of quality pasture and reasonably priced feed?  What are the market conditions for either bred or replacement type heifers?  How great is the fear of opening up the herd to outside genetic and health influences?

Numerous arguments point to the pros of purchasing other producer’s replacement quality heifers and I have championed them myself under the right circumstances, but the option of holding on to some heifers from the established herd should not be disregarded.  As reputable producers are constantly striving to improve the overall herd, the upgraded quality should be evidenced in the heifers being born to the farm’s core group of cows.
As the saying goes, “Like mother, like daughter.”  Inspect the upper echelon cows sired by bulls with strong maternal traits when analyzing replacement heifers.  Calving ease, adaptability to milking, good legs, feet, body confirmation, reasonable temperament, udder and teat configuration, metabolic disease resistance plus the ability to withstand fluctuations in feed supplies are vital attributes of dairy cows in productive systems. 

Heifers should be born near the beginning of the calving period, reach puberty early with positive-growth and be ready to breed at fifteen months or 65% of mature weight (MW) reaching 85% (MW) at calving time.  A goal of entering the milking herd at 22 to 24 months of age for large breeds should be expected.
Animals should be selected from dams with a positive history of conception rate since difficult or late breeders are expensive to maintain.  Pin-point heifers from cows proven to maintain high levels of production across numerous lactations to continue longevity.
Take note of daughters of the higher producing cows in both overall volume of milk and percentage of butterfat levels, proteins and other non-fat solids.  If possible, relate overall production records to feeds consumed and use feed conversion efficiency as another factor.
Look for daughters of mothers with medium sized, wide based udders that don’t hang below the hock joint as this can be an indication of predisposition to mastitis.  Udders should be soft, pliable, silky in texture and non-pendulous but firmly attached high up near the vulva area with strong suspensory ligaments.  After milking they should be well collapsed.  Teats should be average sized, pointing straight down, evenly placed and oriented at the center of the quarter.  
The ideal cow’s confirmation influencing her heifer calves should portray a deep, long wedge-shaped, straight-backed body with wide sprung ribs to provide ample rumen and digestive organ space.  She should be anchored by wide spaced hip pins to allow for the birth of larger calves.  From a rear view, hind legs should stand straight and wide apart.  Front legs should also be straight with a steep strongly attached pastern.  Strong feet and legs will lead to longevity of the dairy cow and facilitate its comfort when in-calf, as on average she is in this condition for approximately 80% of her lactation duration.
Productive dairy farms continually seek to advance the quality of their operations and this philosophy should directly apply to replacing the less productive members of the herd.  On well managed farms, it is entirely possible that some, or all the needed replacement heifers are available on site.  Don’t only have eyes for females over the fence, but also be sure to analyze the daughters of the in-house elite mothers.