Identifying efficient dairy heifer producers using production costs and data envelopment analysis

A. J. Heinrichs, C. M. Jones, S. M. Gray, P. A. Heinrichs, S. A. Cornelisse, R. C. Goodling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


During November and December 2011, data were collected from 44 dairy operations in 13 Pennsylvania counties. Researchers visited each farm to collect information regarding management practices and feeding, and costs for labor, health, bedding, and reproduction for replacement heifers from birth until first calving. Costs per heifer were broken up into 4 time periods: birth until weaning, weaning until 6 mo of age, 6 mo of age until breeding age, and heifers from breeding to calving. Milk production records for each herd were obtained from Dairy Herd Improvement. The average number of milking cows on farms in this study was 197.8. ±. 280.1, with a range from 38 to 1,708. Total cost averaged $1,808.23 ± $338.62 from birth until freshening. Raising calves from birth to weaning cost $217.49. ±. 86.21; raising heifers from weaning age through 6 mo of age cost $247.38. ±. 78.89; raising heifers from 6 mo of age until breeding cost $607.02. ±. 192.28; and total cost for bred heifers was $736.33. ±. 162.86. Feed costs were the largest component of the cost to raise heifers from birth to calving, accounting for nearly 73% of the total. Data envelopment analysis determined that 9 of the 44 farms had no inefficiencies in inputs or outputs. These farms best combined feed and labor investments, spending, on average, $1,137.40 and $140.62/heifer for feed and labor. These heifers calved at 23.7 mo of age and produced 88.42% of the milk produced by older cows. In contrast, the 35 inefficient farms spent $227 more on feed and $78 more on labor per heifer for animals that calved 1.6 mo later and produced only 82% of the milk made by their mature herdmates. Efficiency was attained by herds with the lowest input costs, but herds with higher input costs were also able to be efficient if age at calving was low and milk production was high for heifers compared with the rest of the herd.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7355-7362
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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