In the past, it was affordable to raise every heifer but it is not likely the case today, which means it's important to evaluate your heifer culling strategy.
1. Know your numbers
First, analyse your operation and know your future goals.
Look at the number of animals born versus the number that makes it to the milk string.
That number, along with your cow culling rate, should able to give you an idea how many heifers you need to raise every year to maintain cow numbers or predicted growth.
2. Evaluate breeding strategies
Using genomics or mating programs to identify your best animals may be a good strategy.
One way is to create a tier of your animals.
For example breed your best 25% to sexed semen to get more heifers from your best.
Breed your middle 50% to conventional semen using best bulls.
Breed lowest genetic animals to a beef breed or look at alternative markets for these animals.
3. Evaluate and cull animals based on performance
Set up parameters to monitor the calf and heifer performance to make culling decisions earlier.
For example, monitor weights at birth, weaning and breeding and see if they meet your growth benchmark.
Slow growing heifers may be affected by health challenges and these are the animals that will be the ones you end up culling at some point.
Save the investment and do it sooner instead of later.
4. Track health events and challenges
It is common occurrence for animals that experience multiple health challenges to not make it to lactation.
A calf should be evaluated if it has been treated for pneumonia two or more times prior to weaning.
Whether you cull the animal or not, it is important to note that animal before future treatments are given.
You may also enlist your vet to ultrasound for lung lesions in order to determine the probability of future respiratory challenges.
5. Evaluate your facilities
In many cases, farmers will stretch their facilities beyond the max in order to accommodate all youngstock.
Most are overstock which will stress the animals.
This will negatively affect the performance and health of the calf.
Reducing numbers early in order to operate at normal capacity can help to boost animal health and performance.