Economically feeding dairy heifers is a balance between keeping costs as low as possible and feeding for optimal growth and weight gain. The goal for Holstein heifers is a weight of at least 1,200 pounds after calving at 24 months or younger.
To economically accomplish this, start with forages, which form the foundation to design rations.
The quality of forages you feed heifers greatly influences feed costs. As forage quality decreases, heifers eat less and require more grain. Hay generally cost about two cents per pound. Grain mixes fed to supply nutrients not provided by the forages can cost six to 10 cents per pound.
Thus using lower-quality forages increases heifer feed costs. For example, a ration containing higher-quality hay may cost 25 cents less per day and provide nutrients to help heifers grow better. The economic impact becomes readily apparent when you multiply this savings over a group of heifers.