Improving the performance of dairy heifer operations by understanding maternal and management stressors impacting heifer growth and feed efficiency

PI: Kent Weigel


Weigel is Professor and Chair of the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences at UW–Madison. He holds research, extension and teaching appointments and serves a technical consultant for numerous companies and organizations in the dairy genetics industry.  His research focuses on genetic selection and genome-guided management programs to improve the productivity, health, fertility, and feed efficiency of dairy cattle using tools such as whole genome selection, advanced reproductive technologies, crossbreeding, electronic data capture systems, and artificial intelligence algorithms.

Graduate student: Kaylee Riesgraf (pictured above) grew up on her family’s farm, A&L Lisowe Acres, near Fond du Lac, Wis. and received a bachelor’s degree in dairy science from UW–River Falls. Previous experience on her home farm and an internship at Holsum Dairies in Hilbert, Wis. sparked a passion for diagnosing sick dairy cows and developing subsequent treatment plans. Riesgraf also developed strong analytical skills working with statistical data and using herd management software to drive decision-making. Riesgraf is pursuing a master’s degree in dairy science and is mentored by Kent Weigel from the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences.

Riesgraf joins Weigel’s team exploring the effects of stressful life experiences on heifers, including maternal stress during late gestation and neonatal stress before weaning. This study looks closely at dry matter intake, average daily gain, and feed efficiency of heifers subjected to common stressors in early life. These heifers, age 17 to 20 months, are located at the Marshfield Agricultural Research Station. Additionally, samples will be taken at puberty and mid-gestation to evaluate DNA and metabolic related differences between stressors. Riesgraf’s graduate assistantship is collaboratively mentored and co-funded by UW–River Falls.

Steven Kelm