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Production and performance standards for growing Holstein heifers

Hugh Chester-Jones and Neil Broadwater

Published in Dairy Star October 1, 2010

Recently, a team of producers, contract growers, consultants and industry representatives across the United States, who are members of the National Dairy Calf and Heifer Association** (DCHA), developed guidelines termed as “Gold Standards” for Holstein calves and heifers outlining categories of production and performance expectations. Further standards for other dairy breeds and crossbreds will be developed in the near future. The following are selected examples of health, growth and key housing standards:

Birth to six months

Mortality rates

The age of 24 hours shall be used to distinguish between “dead-on-arrival” (stillbirth) and “calf mortality.” Targets:


Defining scours as a case of diarrhea, which requires any intervention for more than 24 hours. Targets:

Defining pneumonia as a case of respiratory disease, which requires individual animal treatment with an antibiotic (not use of feed-grade medication). Targets:

Growth rate


Colostrum management

First feeding: 4 quarts within first hour of life.

Housing standard targets

All calves must have clean and dry pens, draft-free, good air quality.

Six months to freshening


Total death loss from all conditions, but primarily pneumonia.


Pneumonia (treatment required) targets:

Disease which requires treatment from all other causes:

Growth rate

Target growth rate: 1.7 to 2.0 lb. ADG. Perform weigh checks routinely, ideally at least every three months.

By 13 to 15 months of age (breeding) achieve:

Target weight immediately pre-calving: 1350 lb. (or 85% of the weight of full-term, pregnant, mature cows in herd).

Target body condition score at freshening: 3.5 (on a 5-point scale).


Target feeding space:

Target resting space:

Target freestall space:

Vaccination and parasite control

Work with a veterinarian, and, in custom-rearing facilities, dairy owners, to develop a vaccination protocol appropriate to the disease challenges of your operation.


At the Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca, we have been contract raising commercial calves from 2 to 4 days to 6 months of age for over 7 years. The above target guidelines are attainable for growth rates. There are still challenges to achieve the expectations in initial immunity level and morbidity (scours only) prior to 60 days of age but we are working with the dairies to continually improve in this area.

For more information, visit the DCHA web site.

Take these standards, make copies or post in your calf raising facility as an everyday reminder of management goals you can obtain to benefit you and your future dairy herd.

**Rewritten with permission of DCHA, and Pfizer Animal Health is acknowledged as the project sponsor.

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