Wean ‘em up and throw ‘em out in the pasture and forget about them until they are ready for breeding. Most serious beef and dairy producers are moving away from this model of heifer raising, but I’m still surprised at the number of operations I’ve visited where this is the norm.
When first breeding time rolls around, your clients spend thousands of dollars trying to get heifers pregnant whether it’s using valuable bulls, AI, synchronization programs or what have you, but how well have they prepared those heifers to get pregnant? Have they been appropriately vaccinated (see NAHMS table) and dewormed? Has their nutrition brought them to a size and weight that will be conducive to conception? Have they had adequate trace minerals that will boost their immune system, reproductive system and healthy hoof formation (especially for dairy animals)?
This special February issue of Bovine Veterinarian focuses on that six-to-eight month window pre-breeding in the beef and dairy heifer’s life. Fortunately, she doesn’t experience a lot of health issues during this time, though things like inadequate calf vaccinations, a lack of deworming and poor nutrition can derail her future potential.
That’s not to say that illness or injury can’t occur. For example, in the case of dairy heifers, calves as young as 6 months of age can contract intramammary infections that persist throughout pregnancy and into lactation. Leg or hoof injuries can also negatively impact the productive life of the beef or dairy heifer.
When your clients are watching every penny, it pays to have them put their money where it will have long-term benefit, and getting young stock off to a good start is a great investment. Help them with as much information as you can so that heifer can pay it back many times over.