Tips for first-calf heifers
First-calf heifers need to be fed and managed properly to reduce their susceptibility to calving and reproductive failure. To be reproductively efficient, a heifer needs energy, protein, minerals, and fat to support growth and performance. Use of organic trace minerals from 60 days prior to calving to 60 to 80 days after calving also is recommended to improve overall reproductive performance.*1
According to the Beef Cattle Handbook,**2 successfully calving and then rebreeding first-calf heifers presents one of the greatest challenges to cow-calf producers. Cattle production experts suggest you pay attention to these management considerations:
Among other things, calving difficulty in first-calf heifers delays return to estrus, lowers pregnancy rates, increases cow and calf death losses, and dramatically increases costs of production.
Sire selection and proper development of replacement heifers are the keys to reducing calving difficulty.
Restricting energy prior to calving might reduce birth weights, but it has also been shown to cause increased calving difficulty, poor calf vigor, decreased calf survivability, and reduced conception rates.
Separating first-calf heifers from the mature cow herd can help improve reproductive performance. Also, provide a higher quality diet for lactating first-calf heifers than for lactating cows. On pasture, first-calf heifers may have problems consuming enough forage to meet dry matter and energy requirements. Additional energy and other ration adjustments may be necessary if heifers start to lose condition.
Monitor heifers for changes in body condition score (BCS) from calving through breeding. Continue to monitor BCS of first-calf heifers even after the breeding season. Target first-calf heifers to reach a BCS of at least 5.5 at breeding time.
Breed first-calf heifers early as yearling replacement heifers. First-calf heifers have a longer postpartum interval than cows. Either start the breeding season for yearling heifers two to three weeks ahead of the cow herd or shorten the breeding season on the yearlings to help assure an early calving group of first-calf heifers.
Pre calving nutrition
Research has shown that first-calf heifers fed diets with low energy can have calving difficulties and produce lighter weight calves. First-calf heifers fed high energy diets are more likely to return to estrus more rapidly. A target BCS of 6 is recommended for first-calf heifers at calving.
Visit your local Purina Retailer to learn more about Purina Cattle Feeds and Minerals for your entire cattle herd, such as Purina® All-Purpose Cattle Mineral, Purina® Stocker Grower Feed or Purina High Energy 30% Protein Cattle Tub.
References: 1. feeddealer.com/publications/lol_PMI/PDF/First-Calf-Heifers-10-07.pdf 2. iowabeefcenter.org/pdfs/bch/02110.pdf
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