A Study of Dairy Heifer Rearing Practices from Birth to Weaning and Their Associated Costs on UK Dairy Farms


There are many inputs into the dairy replacement herd which impact not only on the cost of rearing heifers from birth to first calving, but also on their future longevity and production potential. This study determined the current cost of rearing dairy heifers in the UK through the calculation and analysis of individual costs on a subset of 102 UK dairy farms. Each farm was visited and an extensive heifer rearing questionnaire was completed. Current heifer rearing practices were recorded to provide insight into critical management decisions. A cost analysis workbook was developed to calculate the costs of inputs in the preweaning period for labour, calving, feed, housing, health treatments and vaccinations, waste storage, machinery and equipment, and utilities. The average age at weaning was 62 d. The mean cost of rearing from birth to weaning was £195.19 per heifer with a mean daily cost of £3.14 (excluding the opportunity cost of the calf). This ranged from £1.68 to £6.11 among farms, reflecting major differences in management strategies and efficiency. The highest contribution to total costs came from feed (colostrum, milk, starter and forage) at 48.5% with milk feeding making up the greatest proportion of this at 37.3%. The next major expenses were bedding and labour, contributing 12.3% and 11.2% respectively. Unsurprisingly, delaying age at weaning increased total cost by £3.53 per day. Total costs were on average 45% higher on organic farms than conventional due to higher feed costs and later weaning. Calving pattern also had a strong association with the total cost being lowest with spring calving, intermediate with autumn calving and highest in multi block and all year round calving herds.

Share and Cite:

Boulton, A. , Rushton, J. and Wathes, D. (2015) A Study of Dairy Heifer Rearing Practices from Birth to Weaning and Their Associated Costs on UK Dairy Farms. Open Journal of Animal Sciences, 5, 185-197. doi: 10.4236/ojas.2015.52021.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


[1] Brickell, J.S., McGowan, M.M., Pfeiffer, D.U. and Wathes, D.C. (2009) Mortality in Holstein-Friesian Calves and Replacement Heifers in Relation to Body Weight and IGF-I Concentration, on 19 Farms in England. Animal, 3, 1175-1182.
[2] Henderson, L., Miglior, F., Sewalem, A., Kelton, D., Robinson, A. and Leslie, K.E. (2011) Estimation of Genetic Parameters for Measures of Calf Survival in a Population of Holstein Heifer Calves from a Heifer-Raising Facility in New York State. Journal of Dairy Science, 94, 461-470.
[3] Heinrichs, A.J., Heinrichs, B.S., Harel, O., Rogers, G.W. and Place, N.T. (2005) A Prospective Study of Calf Factors Affecting Age, Body Size, and Body Condition Score at First Calving of Holstein Dairy Heifers. Journal of Dairy Science, 88, 2828-2835.
[4] Bach, A., Valls, N., Solans, A. and Torrent, T. (2008) Associations between Nondietary Factors and Dairy Herd Performance. Journal of Dairy Science, 91, 3259-3267.
[5] Cooke, J.S., Cheng, Z., Bourne, N.E. and Wathes, D.C. (2013) Association between Growth Rates, Age at First Calving and Subsequent Fertility, Milk Production and Survival in Holstein-Friesian Heifers. Open Journal of Animal Sciences, 3, 1-12.
[6] Mourits, M.C.M., Huirne, R.B.M., Dijkhuizen, A.A., Kristensen, A.R. and Galligan, D.T. (1999) Economic Optimization of Dairy Heifer Management Decisions. Agricultural Systems, 61, 17-31.
[7] Wathes, D.C., Pollott, G.E., Johnson, K.F., Richardson, H. and Cooke, J.S. (2014) Heifer Fertility and Carry over Consequences for Life Time Production in Dairy and Beef Cattle. Animal, 8, 91-104.
[8] Khan, M.A., Lee, H.J., Lee, W.S., Kim, H.S., Kim, S.B., Ki, K.S., Ha, J.K., Lee, H.G. and Choi, Y.J. (2007) Pre-and Post-weaning Performance of Holstein Female Calves Fed Milk through Step-Down and Conventional Methods. Journal of Dairy Science, 90, 876-885.
[9] Davis Rincker, L.E., VandeHaar, M.J., Wolf, C.A., Liesman, J.S., Chapin, L.T. and Weber Nielsen, M.S. (2011) Effect of Intensified Feeding of Heifer Calves on Growth, Pubertal Age, Calving Age, Milk Yield, and Economics. Journal of Dairy Science, 94, 3554-3567.
[10] Heinrichs, A.J. and Heinrichs, B.S. (2011) A Prospective Study of Calf Factors Affecting First-Lactation and Lifetime Milk Production and Age of Cows When Removed from the Herd. Journal of Dairy Science, 94, 336-341.
[11] Svensson, C., Hultgreen, J. and Oltenacu, P.A. (2006) Morbidity in 3-7 Month Old Dairy Calves in South-Western Sweden, and Risk Factors for Diarrhoea and Respiratory Disease. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 74, 162-179.
[12] Hultgren, J., Svensson, C., Maizon, D.O. and Oltenacu, P.A. (2008) Rearing Conditions, Morbidity and Breeding Performance in Dairy Heifers in Southwest Sweden. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 87, 244-260.
[13] Donovan, G.A., Dohoo, I.R., Montgomery, D.M. and Bennett, F.L. (1998) Calf and Disease Factors Affecting Growth in Female Holstein Calves in Florida, USA. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 33, 1-10.
[14] Waltner-Toews, D., Martin, S.W. and Meek, A.H. (1986) The Effect of Early Calfhood Health Status on Survivorship and Age at First Calving. Canadian Journal of Veterinary Research, 50, 314-317.
[15] Vasseur, E., Rushen, J., de Passillé, A.M., Lefebvre, D. and Pellerin, D. (2010) An Advisory Tool to Improve Management Practices Affecting Calf and Heifer Welfare on Dairy Farms. Journal of Dairy Science, 93, 4414-4426.
[16] Agricultural Wages Board (2012) The Agricultural Wages (England and Wales) Order 2012.
[17] Davis, C.L. and Drackley, J.K. (1998) The Development, Nutrition, and Management of the Young Calf. University Press, Ames.
[18] Jasper, J. and Weary, D.M. (2002) Effects of Ad Libitum Milk Intake on Dairy Calves. Journal of Dairy Science, 85, 3054-3058.
[19] DairyCo. (2012) PD+ Section 10—Managing Heifer Rearing.
[20] DairyCo. (2009) Energy Efficiency on Farm—A Practical Guide.
[21] Agro Business Consultants Ltd. (2013) The Agricultural Budgeting and Costing Book. Melton Mowbray.
[22] Barnard, C.S. and Nix, J.S. (1979) Farm Planning and Control. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
[23] Department of Agriculture and Rural Development North Ireland (DARDNI) (2014) Farm Business Data 2014.
[24] Promar International (2011) What Are Heifer Replacements Really Costing You?
[25] Karzes, J. (2005) Dairy Replacement Programs: Cost and Analysis. Proceedings NRAES Dairy Calves and Heifers: Integrating Biology and Management, Syracuse, 2005, 10-23.
[26] Mohd Nor, N., Steeneveld, W., Mourits, M.C.M. and Hogeveen, H. (2012) Estimating the Costs of Rearing Young Dairy Cattle in the Netherlands Using a Simulation Model that Accounts for Uncertainty Related to Diseases. Preventive Veterinary Medicine, 106, 214-224.
[27] Heinrichs, A.J., Jones, C.M., Gray, S.M., Heinrichs, P.A., Cornelisse, S.A. and Goodling, R.C. (2013) Identifying Efficient Dairy Heifer Producers Using Production Costs and Data Envelopment Analysis. Journal of Dairy Science, 96, 7355-7362.
[28] Hill, T.M., Bateman II, H.G., Aldrich, J.M. and Schlotterbeck, R.L. (2011) Comparisons of Housing, Bedding, and Cooling Options for Dairy Calves. Journal of Dairy Science, 94, 2138-2146.
[29] Gabler, M.T., Tozer, P.R. and Heinrichs, A.J. (2000) Development of a Cost Analysis Spreadsheet for Calculating the Costs to Raise a Replacement Dairy Heifer. Journal of Dairy Science, 83, 1104-1109.
[30] Brickell, J.S., Bourne, N., McGowan, M.M. and Wathes, D.C. (2009) Effect of Growth and Development during the Rearing Period on the Subsequent Fertility of Nulliparous Holstein-Friesian Heifers. Theriogenology, 72, 408-416.
[31] Brickell, J.S. and Wathes, D.C. (2011) A Descriptive Study of the Survival of Holstein-Friesian Heifers through to Third Calving on English Dairy Farms. Journal of Dairy Science, 94, 1831-1838.
[32] Gulliksen, S.M., Lie, K.I., Loken, T. and Osteras, O. (2009) Calf Mortality in Norwegian Dairy Herds. Journal of Dairy Science, 92, 2782-2795.
[33] Johanson, J.M. and Berger, P.J. (2003) Birth Weight as a Predictor of Calving Ease and Perinatal Mortality in Holstein Cattle. Journal of Dairy Science, 86, 3745-3755.

Copyright © 2023 by authors and Scientific Research Publishing Inc.

Creative Commons License

This work and the related PDF file are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.