Feeding first calf heifers

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Source: Manitoba Agriculture Food, and Rural Initiatives

First calf heifers need special attention at feeding time. Here’s why!

  1. Heifers are still growing (100-150 lbs during each of their first two lactations). This means extra protein and energy is required. NRC suggests that cow maintenance requirements for protein and energy be increased by 20% during the first lactation and 10% during the second to allow for growth. Taking this into account, a 1,100lb. heifer’s maintenance requirement is about the same as a 1,400 lb. mature cow.
  2. Heifers eat less. Heifers will eat roughly 20% less feed than a mature cow.
  3. Heifers have more persistent milk production. Peak milk production of heifers is approximately 25% less than that of a mature cow. Although they reach their peak later and at lower levels, heifers are more persistent. A drop of 10% per month after peak milk for older cows and 8% per month for first lactation cows are typical persistency values.
  4. Heifers are more variable. Because heifers have not been exposed to as much culling, their production, intake and body size tends to be more variable than that of a mature cow.

Feeding Strategies

  1. Group heifers together. This reduces competition with older, larger and more aggressive cows. First calf heifers spend 10-15% more time eating when housed as a separate group. Surveys have shown that heifers from all-heifer groups gave significantly more milk than those fed in competition with cows.
  2. Feed according to production with an allowance for growth. Feed the heifer as you would a cow producing an extra 10-15 pounds of milk.
  3. Heifers will need to be fed at or near peak levels for longer than mature cows.
  4. Reduce udder edema at calving by limiting grain intake to 6-8 lbs/day for the two weeks prior to calving. Provide salt free choice.
  5. Pay close attention to the body condition of the heifers and adjust the feeding program accordingly.
  6. Allow a 60-day dry period even though heifers may still be milking well.

For further information contact:

Karen Dupchak
Farm Production Extension, Animal Nutritionist
Manitoba Agriculture Food, and Rural Initiatives
204-545 University Crescent
Winnipeg, MB R3T 5S6
Phone: 204-945-7668
Fax: 204-945-4327

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