Improving heifer recordkeeping: Key strategies and insights

Detailed records on heifers provides opportunities for stakeholders to make well-informed management and investment decisions for the farm.

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Keeping detailed records of heifer management is pivotal for dairy operations aiming for efficiency, productivity, and achieving long-term goals. Lauren Siver of Uniform-Agri shared invaluable insights into heifer recordkeeping strategies, shedding light on the significance of meticulous data management and practical approaches to enhance record accuracy during the Improving Heifer Recordkeeping: Key Strategies and Insights – April 30, 2024 Heifer Management Webinar Series Summary, with recordings available via a podcasts or on YouTube.

Understanding the significance

Heifer replacements constitute a significant portion of dairy expenses, ranking as the second-largest cost center on dairy farms. In the past six years, heifer replacement inventory has witnessed a notable decline, accompanied by an eight-year high in heifer prices. Purchasing prices from USDA and auction markets range from $1,890 to $2,800 per head. Rearing costs vary substantially, ranging from approximately $1,360 to $2,510 per heifer. To know a cow’s genetic and financial value, and when she will reach her breakeven point on a farm, records of events and inputs are paramount.

First lactation cow milk yield is an insightful KPI (key production indicator) used by farmers, genetic companies and farm consultants to evaluate the productivity of these animals. First lactation Holstein cow milk yield in Michigan remains consistent with the U.S. average, according to the State and national standardized lactation averages by breed for cows calving in 2020 presented by the Council of Dairy Cattle Breeding. This presents an area of opportunity to wield heifer records as a tool to see where you can take your herd. A document to give you a jumpstart on what KPIs to look at and what to record is the Dairy Calf and Heifer Association Gold Standards. This document lists benchmarks and best management practices for raising dairy calves and heifers, with visuals and guides.

Types of records and their realities

Various methods exist for recording heifer data, including paper records, spreadsheets, herd management software and mobile apps. However, most farms struggle with incomplete records, with paper-based systems generally less comprehensive than digital alternatives. Edwards et al. (2024) discovered factors that either encourage or are a barrier to recording events, which include:

  • Proximity of record-keeping system to calves affects record completeness, emphasizing on-site data capture.
  • Point-of-care data capture increases event recording by capturing interventions immediately.
  • Time constraints and lack of data analysis deter thorough record-keeping, especially on smaller farms.
  • Mobile apps and user-friendly interfaces enhance compliance and ease of use, improving record accuracy and analysis.
  • Integration of additional software, like feeding data, optimizes input costs and reduces the need for purchased inventory through performance monitoring.

In response to addressing recordkeeping compliance and point-of-care data entry, some farms have adopted a mixed method approach, using paper forms which are then logged digitally. Effective recordkeeping hinges on user-friendly herd management recordkeeping systems, clear protocols, and continuous monitoring of key performance indicators (KPIs). Seamless integration of on-farm technologies reduces data entry errors and enhances overall efficiency. Furthermore, regular team meetings and clear protocols facilitate streamlined data capture and analysis. Practical recordkeeping goals enable effective monitoring and analysis when they are simple, useful, and validated. By adapting systems to alleviate bottlenecks and maintaining detailed individual records, dairy operations can leverage data for informed decision-making and resource optimization.

Meticulous recordkeeping of heifer management is not just a necessity but a strategic advantage for dairy operations. The insights provided by Lauren Siver underscore the critical role of accurate data management in driving efficiency, productivity, and long-term success. Farms can identify areas for improvement and set benchmarks by understanding the significance of heifer replacements in the overall dairy expenses and leveraging key production indicators like first lactation cow milk yield. While various recordkeeping methods exist, the adoption of user-friendly digital tools and integration with on-farm technologies can significantly enhance accuracy and event recording compliance. Establishing clear protocols, setting practical goals, and embracing a culture of continuous monitoring and analysis, allows dairy operations to harness the power of data to make informed decisions and optimize resources effectively.

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