Department Publishes Overview of Heifer Raising Industry

US- The US Department of Agriculture has released a study of the 2011 heifer rearing industry offering a rare overview of operations on over 200 farms.
calendar icon 6 November 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

The report, which is a cooperative effort between the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the 21 participating States, and the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association (DCHA), aims to give a snapshot of how the industry was operating in 2011.

Because the capital costs associated with starting up heifer rearing businesses are not large they often go in and out of business in a relatively short time. Despite the transient nature of the business, gauging how this industry works is important as they contribute to the Dairy sector greatly by freeing up space and time on other farms for lactating cattle and milk production.

Report Findings

Logistical and Business Observations

The challenges faced according to the report were principally; stock health, client relations, receipt of payments; and cost and availability of feed. These challenges were new to the majority of operations as most farms had been involved in the industry less than ten years. In fact, only 10 per cent of operations could boast of more than 21 years’ experience in the business.

For the surveyed enterprises in 2011, most heifers were returned to the dairy of origin although about 20 per cent of heifers were sold through auction markets, dealers or directly to other dairies. The age heifers were sent from original dairies varied greatly from two days old to heifers that were pregnant.


Understandably, heifer health was the main concern amongst operations managers with digestive problems and pneumonia being the most common disorders affecting pre-weaned heifers. Antibiotics were used to treat pre-weaned heifers on 85 per cent of operations.

The two most common health issues affecting weaned heifers were diarrhoea and respiratory problems. The survey showed that 82 per cent of operations treated respiratory problems in calves with antibiotics.

Feeding Practices

The results of the report emphasised the importance of administering colostrum to new born calves and in all cases this was undertaken on the dairy of origin.

Once in the heifer rearing systems 85 per cent of farms fed milk replacer to calves. The report concluded that of farms that administered medication in milk replacer Oxytetracyline in conjunction with Neomycin was the most common.

Despite concerns about the use of antibiotics in livestock feed three out of four operations fed antibiotics to heifers.

Disease Transmission

Due to risks of TB, Brucellosis and Salmonellosis transmission the USDA opposes the mixing of different heifers from different dairies of origin. The survey showed that 60 per cent of operations allowed heifers from different dairies to mix. On 20 per cent of operations nose to nose contact was possible.

The report observed the operations, monitoring them for disease carrying wild animals. Foxes, coyotes, deer and raccoons were sited on nine out of ten enterprises. The USDA consider these animals as a threat to agriculture and consider Raccoons a potential source of rabies and Salomella and associate Foxes with Leptospirosis and Neospora.

The department stated that because breeding can spread Bovine Leukaemia Virus and Trachiomoniasis insemination methods used by the enterprises had implications on disease management. Of the farms surveyed 75 per cent bred heifer on site with 18 per cent using natural breeding. Half of farms used a combination of artificial semination (AI) and bulling and 30 per cent used AI only.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

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