Dairy heifers with a history of disease, insufficient nutrition or overcrowded housing conditions as young calves are likely to perform poorly in both reproduction and milk production.

Getting heifers off to a fast start is the key to ensuring they reach breeding condition on time and in good health. By paying close attention to these management areas you can help heifers reach their full potential and deliver maximum profitability.

Environment: Providing calves with a clean, dry environment is of utmost importance. Young calves have developing immune systems and are especially vulnerable to viral and bacterial pathogens. Calf bedding should be changed frequently to maintain a clean environment and reduce moisture from urine and feces. Calves also need access to clean, fresh air, so it is important housing is well-ventilated.

Nutrition: Calves need adequate nutrition for health and growth, including a sufficient supply of high-quality colostrum and milk. Four quarts of colostrum within the first six hours of life is essential. Calves should receive transition milk or milk replacer on days 2–3 and milk replacer or pasteurized milk on days 4–14. Transitioning to a dry grain starter program prior to weaning and adjusting rations periodically to meet energy and growth requirements are critical to ensuring calves receive necessary protein, roughage and minerals. Fresh, clean water should be available to calves at all times.

Vaccination: Protection from major respiratory, reproductive and clostridial diseases is needed at two to four weeks of age. Calves should be vaccinated for BVD, IBR, PI3, BRSV, hardjo-bovis and the primary clostridial pathogens. Booster doses may be needed at weaning.

Movement and grouping: Heifer calves should be grouped according to their nutritional and management needs. Placing three to four animals in a group for one month postweaning allows calves to gradually adjust to group living. At 4–6 months of age, calves can be placed in groups of 10–12 animals within 100 lbs of each other in body weight.

For more information, visit www.healthyheifer.com.

This information was provided by Novartis Animal Health.