Don’t forget about heifers

Emily Wilmes, University of Minnesota

Providing your heifers with proper housing will ensure you can offer the best management

We regularly talk about two main groups of animals on a dairy farm: calves and cows. While calves and cows are essential members of the operation, just as important are the heifers. Particularly, I’m talking about heifers that are about 5 months of age up to calving age. That is a big chunk of time and there is a lot happening in that heifer’s life. It’s important that we are providing this group with the proper environment as they grow and develop.

By 5 months of age, heifers should be acclimated to a group housing environment and needing to share bunk space. An important housing consideration is providing enough space as heifers grow. Also, providing housing that can facilitate tasks such as herd health checks, breeding, and ration changes. Additionally, the amount of shelter heifers need decreases as they age. There are several options for housing heifers in this extended age group, but all housing must provide some key components for optimum care and growth.

Group and feed heifers based on age and size. Keeping heifers similar in size together can make feeding easier, and keeping heifers of similar ages together makes management simpler. Speaking of making things easy, housing for heifers should allow for easy movement of animals as well as easy observation. Keeping gate systems simple and uniform across pens will help with this. In addition, bedding and removal of manure should be convenient, and housing should provide adequate ventilation. These components come together to provide a clean and comfortable environment for the heifers. Another piece of keeping heifers comfortable is keeping them in facilities that provide adequate bunk space and constant access to clean, fresh water.

There are many options for heifer housing, and I can’t say which one is better than the other. As long as the previously listed components are met, then the housing type used should work for you and your heifers. I have seen heifers housed in freestalls, monoslope barns and 3-sided sheds, old tie stall barns and bedded packs, and they all seem to work as long as all of the grouping and facility requirements are met. If you are looking at retro-fitting a current structure, is it very important to make sure that the structure meets those requirements, or can be modified in order to meet them. Especially look at the ventilation of such a facility.

Calves and cows are important, but just as important are your heifers! Providing your heifers with proper housing will ensure you can offer the best management.

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