For FDA Recall Information:

Dairy Heifer Raising




     A good dairy heifer is selected from the milk production of her mother.   Preparation of the heifer to become a dairy cow starts at birth.  Identification and record keeping is a must with any breeding program.  We prefer that you tag the heifer’s left ear, as the Brucellosis tag and tattoo go into their right ear.  You can also visibly separate steers from heifers if you tag the steer’s right ear.  Since 2012 the use of brands and tattoos for official identification is no longer recognized for official identification such as a health certificate, some blood tests, etc.  When we work cattle we attempt to place one of the veterinary USDA tags in all animals or you can obtain the USDA RFID microchip ear tag yourself; we recommend the large flap tag so you can use it as a farm tag.  We recommend that you consider the official 840 RFID tag as your farm tag; the cost can be $2-3 yet at this time they are free from the USDA (2013).  Ear notch testing for BVD can be done as early as a couple weeks of age.  It is very important to record the date of birth of all food animals.  We have a simple system for individual record if you do not have any such system.

     At birth ensure the animal had their navel dipped in iodine, a vitamin A & D injection, a lactobacillus type product orally, and possibly an antibiotic injection to help prevent navel ill.  Colostrum should have been ingested by 12 hours of age; if unsure give 2+ quarts of the cow’s first milk and/or a commercial colostrum preparation.  If there were twins at birth, and one is a female and one is a male, the female will be sterile (freemartin); she needs to be identified as such and not go into the milking string or be sold for breeding.  A calf should have 8% of their weight daily in milk.  Feed calves twice a day, and we do not advise weaning off milk until 3+ months of age.  A calf starter can be fed anytime, but do not wean the calf until they are eating at least 3# of starter a day.  After 4 months of age hay can be provided, preferably after they have ingested their milk and/or creep feed.

     Vaccination of the heifer starts at 6-10 weeks of age with the clostridium 7 way, IBR/BVD/PI3/BRSV, Lepto 5 and Histophilus (Haemophilus). These vaccines need to be repeated every 6-8 weeks for 3x during the first year of life.  Routinely we do not recommend vaccines under 5 weeks of age, as the calf‘s immune system isn‘t ready to respond.  For pregnant cattle we recommend only killed vaccines, while the modified live vaccines can be given if she is open.  The lungworm parasite is not a dairy problem in our area, but deworming for the other parasites should be done at least 2-3x during the first year of life.  Each farm is different in their additional vaccination and deworming needs, such as E. Coli, Mannheimia, Mycoplasma, Pasteurella, Rota-Corona virus, Salmonella, Staph., grubs, lice, liver flukes, etc.  If you give vibrio (Campylobacter) we do not recommend giving the vibrio-lepto in the same vaccine.  We also do not recommend giving two separate gram-negative endotoxin-type vaccines, such as Salmonella and E. Coli, within the same week.  Of the above 15+ vaccines we recommend, most of them need to be repeated at least once during the first year of calf hood.  We can give the Brucella vaccine after 4 months of age.  If you plan to sell cattle outside the United States, it is important to realize that some countries, require “officially Brucellosis vaccinated” cattle to have been vaccinated at a younger age than our 4-10 month recommendation.  By waiting till 10 months of age you will have a greater chance of having a cow develop a vaccination titer that can cause problems with testing of the herd.  Routinely, the herd is tested for Brucellosis by use of the milk test, and a tuberculosis test needs to done every 3 years.  If your herd is not accredited, we will advise the blood test for Brucellosis with the heifer’s first TB test, if you plan to export or sell her.  Anytime there is a sale or transfer of livestock the Colorado brand inspector needs to be notified and there needs to be a bill of sale.  If you purchase a calf keep the bill of sale in your dairy health record file; if this calf is later sold and/or you plan to slaughter you will need such documentation in Colorado.  All premises where livestock are kept are to be registered with the USDA:

     We recommend giving a magnet routinely to all breeding cattle at around 10 months of age.  Extra mammary teats are usually removed with the Brucellosis vaccination and/or dehorning.  Pelvic hip area can be measured before breeding.  It is highly recommended to test for Bovine Virus Diarrhea-Persistently Infected status (BVD-PI) whenever you are working a group of calves; this can be done as early as 2 months of age.

     In the late 1980’s it was been shown that the ionophore feed additives will improve the feed efficiency of the dairy heifer, returning $7?9 for every $1 of the drug’s cost.  Monensin can be used after the heifer reaches 400 pounds, while lasalocid can be fed anytime.  By using the products to increase feed efficiency, it is not a “cure all” to use inferior feeds.  A quality feed is required for optimum growth.  We do not advise implanting heifers to be used for breeding, although some are labeled for this purpose.

     Until 6 months of age, the diet should be mostly a creep feed with some hay, after this period alfalfa hay should be fed free choice with a grain supplement provided.  Do not suddenly switch any ruminant’s diet, do it over a period of 3-4 weeks.  The heifer should be fed to gain 1.5+# a day, in order to breed her at 14 months of age.  At 6 months she should weigh 375#, at 9 months 525#, and 12 months 650+ #.  Do not breed a heifer until they are 65% of their adult weight.  If you are buying a bull he needs to be tested for trichomoniasis if over 18 months of age, and other disease(s) testing which we recommend.  New cows coming into the herd should also be tested for Vibriosis (Campylobacter) if naturally bred earlier.  There are many other diseases to consider if you have a closed herd.  All bull calves over a year of age need to be tested for Tritrichomoniasis, etc.  When calves are weaned at 4-8 months of age, the heifer should be separated from bull calves, unless they have been castrated.  Castration of bull calves can be as early as a couple weeks of age, and preferably by weaning time.  

     When first observing the heifer for estrus, a system of early morning, late evening should be utilized.  Most cows will show estrus during this time.  During a hot day, over 80% of the cows will not show signs of estrus.  After the heifer is bred, her diet should be similar to the lactation ration.  If practical the dairy heifers should be fed separately from adult cows.  Vaccinations should be given 4-6 weeks before springing; ensure the products are for pregnant animals.  A vaccine within 10 days of calving is not recommended.


The Staff at the Nelson Road Veterinary Clinic




Calf Hutches:



     Plastic or fiberglass is the easiest to clean. Wood can harbor diseases.  Opaque is the best color, as the dark or clear colors can cause the inside to become too hot on sunny days.  In warm climates there should be a vented top available.

     The shelter width to length should be 2:1 for reducing drafts.  4 x 8′, or 32 sq feet is adequate.

     The pen space, in addition to the shelter space, should be at least 32 square feet.  The flooring should be soft and stable for the calf to help in leg and feet development.  Concrete and slats are not recommended.

     Place the feeders so one can feed them from the outside, which aids in reducing diseases from being transmitted.  Feed off the ground in attached buckets or troughs which can be removed and cleaned. 

     Use a hole in the fence for the calf to feed through, so that any food dropped will not fall into their pen; this also reduces fecal and disease problems.

     Place the back of the hutch facing prevailing winds.  If possible place on sloping ground for drainage.  Keep the hutches at least a few feet apart to help prevent calves from breathing on each other and thus transmitting colds.  Set up the hutches so one can move the hutches at least every 4-6 months.  Disinfect and allow at least 2 weeks between each new calf.  Allow the previous area to be exposed to sunlight and being able to dry out.