Grouping and nutritional strategies for dairy heifers

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Jan Kleinschmidt explains how, in order for heifer rearing programs to be successful, these animals must be given the same time and consideration as the milking herd.

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Grouping and nutritional strategies for dairy heifers

  1. 1. GROUPING AND NUTRITIONAL STRATEGIES FOR DAIRY HEIFERS
  2. 2. GROUPING AND NUTRITIONAL STRATEGIES FOR DAIRY HEIFERS In order for heifer rearing programs to be successful these animals must be given the same time and consideration as the milking herd. We are looking for: 1. Heifers that grow tall with the appropriate body condition score (BCS). 2. Heifers calving out between 22 to 24 months of age with a vigorous 1st and 2nd lactation and no “sophomore slump”. 3. Achieve all of these as economically as possible for my client
  3. 3. Measure, measure, measure! Much can be learned about the success of a calf and heifer-rearing program by measuring height and weight.
  4. 4. Height Height can be measured in several ways:  My preferred method is to use a “height stick” at the shoulder.  Another method is to paint “height lines” on housing and “eyeball” the heifers as they go by.
  5. 5. Height Height can be measured in several ways:  My preferred method is to use a “height stick” at the shoulder.  Another method is to paint “height lines” on housing and “eyeball” the heifers as they go by.
  6. 6. Height
  7. 7. Weight Weight can be obtained either by a scale or a weight tape, I prefer a scale for accuracy. If you do use a tape make sure the animals are standing on a level hard floor surface with weight equally balanced on all feet. In addition watch for excess manure and dirt on the underside of the heifers.
  8. 8. Weight The resulting data should be applied to a heifer growth chart and used to help evaluate the performance of a heifer management program. These charts will show problem areas where whole groups of animals are undersized, underweight, or over weight, all good indicators of improper feeding or poor overall management.
  9. 9. GROUPING AND NUTRITIONAL STRATEGIES FOR DAIRY HEIFERS
  10. 10. Weight
  11. 11. BCS can be used to evaluate overall nutrition & management.  With my herds I body condition score ALL production groups (milking, dry and heifers) at each herd visit.  With herds that I only visit on a bi-monthly basis the herd veterinarian BCS’s the herd and relays the information to me. My client and I need this information
  12. 12. Increase/decrease energy directly related to the BCS of heifer groups There is no room on a progressive dairy farm for thin or fat heifers. Thin heifers have their obvious challenges but by far in the year 2013 the most common challenge to Holstein heifers is OVER CONDITIONING.
  13. 13. Increase/decrease energy directly related to the BCS of heifer groups There is no room on a progressive dairy farm for thin or fat heifers. Thin heifers have their obvious challenges but by far in the year 2013 the most common challenge to Holstein heifers is OVER CONDITIONING.
  14. 14. Over Conditioning  Over conditioning pre-puberty heifers destroys the udder bed & destroys a heifer’s future productivity.  Over conditioning at puberty makes heifers show poor heats. If they do show heats they are VERY difficult to AI.  Over conditioning at calving results in “fat cow syndrome”: dystocia, ketosis, retained placentas etc.
  15. 15. Body Condition Score for Holstein Heifers
  16. 16. Body Condition Score for Holstein Heifers Calves are usually born with very little condition (BCS 2.0 to 2.5). BCS should approach 3 by breeding and 3.5 to 3.75 by calving at 24 months.
  17. 17. Decisions, decisions, decisions…  Body weights, shoulder heights and BCS allow me to make decisions regarding the energy and protein requirements of my clients’ heifers. Without them I am guessing.  These decisions will directly impact on a heifer’s growth, age at breeding and calving and her lifetime profitability.
  18. 18. Forage Analysis and Ration Balancing Almost all of the herds I work with send in ALL forages for analysis once a month, this includes heifer forages. Most perform dry matter analysis on a weekly basis and record dry matter intakes on a daily basis for all production groups.
  19. 19. Pay as much attention to calf & heifer groups as milking & dry cows! Herd health/nutrition calls involve as much, and in some months more, attention paid to the calf and heifer groups as to the milking and dry cows. These animals are the future of these herds and to neglect them is to neglect the overall operation, not a smart business move!
  20. 20. Grouping Strategies  Birth to 2 weeks post weaning (this will range between 6 to 10 weeks of age).  Post weaning to 4 months of age.  4 months to 6 months  6 months to 11 months.  Breeding group (12 months to 15 months).  Bred group.  Close-up heifer group (3 weeks prepartum). Note: This grouping strategy is typical of herds breeding at 12 months of age. Some herds will also have a group for heifers 9 months to breeding age.
  21. 21. Move Heifers into the next group based on size not age. Although we categorize heifer groups by age, heifers should be moved into the next senior group based on size NOT age. Animals in a group should show good size consistency. Heifers that are small for their age suffer enormous abuse at the hands of their sister heifers. Young heifers should be kept in groups of 10 or less.
  22. 22. Rations - Post Weaning to 6 Months Heifers are not fully functional ruminants until they are between 4 and 6 months of age. The emphasis in this ration will be palatability, high quality grains and protein sources and limited VERY HIGH QUALITY hay. There is new research out of Spain suggesting that calves should receive a poorer quality hay to limit intake.
  23. 23. Rations - Post Weaning to 6 Months I strongly believe that ALL animal groups should have access to high quality, clean water 24 hours a day. This includes calves and heifers. In addition, all heifer groups must receive well- balanced mineral and vitamin packages containing an ionophore.
  24. 24. 6 Months to Breeding Most of the herds I work with feed high group TMR to this group; some herds feed TMR to the post-weaning group successfully. Heifers are now functional ruminants, and although much of their nutrition can be met through forages, growing heifers require some grains and protein supplements.
  25. 25. Breeding and Bred The primary goal for this group of heifers is to maintain an ADG between 0.75 and 0.82 kg/day while minimizing feed costs. Almost 98% of the ration can come from quality forages; the rest is vitamin and mineral premix.
  26. 26. Close-up Heifers Close up heifers need to be prepared to enter the milking herd in a similar fashion to the mature cow. My herds follow a 3-week close up program; this ration “mimics” the milking ration but is balanced for the special needs of the transition animal. Wherever possible I do not expose springing heifers to anionic salts, for palatability issues.
  27. 27. Summary  Body condition score, body weight and shoulder heights.  Analyze forages on a monthly basis, do dry matter determinations on a weekly basis.  A quality, well-balanced ration should be available to all heifer groups 24 hours a day.  Group according to size not age; maintain consistency in size in each group.  Close up heifers need the same transition into the milking ration as the mature cows.  ALL calves and heifers must have access to high quality water and a well-balanced vitamin mineral premix containing an ionophore.

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