By Dr Sarah Chaplin,
Agriculture Victoria Development Specialist
WELL-grown heifers are more likely to reach their full potential for milk production and recover their rearing costs earlier, therefore it is key to have a management plan for your heifers and not neglect them.
The critical times for feeding young stock are post-weaning and when there is a shortage of quality pasture.
It is worth remembering well-grown heifers are an investment in your herd’s future and your business. Plus, they will get in calf and then back in calf more easily.
Depending on your situation, there are several options for feeding young heifers.
If you have them, good quality pasture and good quality hay will support healthy growth rates.
If pasture and hay are in short supply, you could feed minimal fodder and provide supplements in a trough. You will need to ensure the diet meets the heifers’ nutritional needs, considering energy, protein and fibre, plus manage the risk of acidosis (concentrate levels in the diet should not exceed 50 per cent).
As a rule, when pasture quality is poor, high-quality supplements containing at least 11.5 MJ ME/kg dry matter and 16 per cent crude protein will be required.
You can check whether your heifer feeding plans are enough by setting growth targets for your heifers and monitoring growth using scales, girth tapes or height sticks.
If your heifers suffer a growth check, they will be able to make some catch-up growth. But remember, catch-up growth is usually fat and muscle, and you may not be able to make up any check in frame size. You will need to watch out for under-sized heifers gaining too much weight before calving as this increases the risk of calving difficulties.
Appropriate management of livestock needs to be a priority for everyone in the dairy industry, including in challenging times such as dry seasonal conditions.
Allowing livestock to become malnourished may constitute an offence under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.
For more information on heifer rearing, read the Dairy Australia manual ‘Rearing Healthy Calves’ or visit the Dairy Australia website and search for ‘heifer management’, or contact Sarah Chaplin at Agriculture Victoria on 0439 275 896.
For the latest on all assistance and information available on managing for and during dry seasons, please visit agriculture.vic.gov.au/dryseasons or call 136 186.