Feeding First Calf Heifers

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 twolactations). This means extra protein and energy is required. NRC suggests that cowmaintenance requirements for protein and energy be increased by 20% during the firstlactation 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 maturecow.
  3. Heifers have more persistent milk production. Peak milk production ofheifers is approximately 25% less than that of a mature cow. Although they reach theirpeak later and at lower levels, heifers are more persistent. A drop of 10% per month afterpeak milk for older cows and 8% per month for first lactation cows are typical persistencyvalues.
  4. Heifers are more variable. Because heifers have not been exposed to asmuch culling, their production, intake and body size tends to be more variable than thatof a mature cow.

Feeding Strategies

  1. Group heifers together. This reduces competition with older, larger andmore aggressive cows. First calf heifers spend 10-15% more time eating when housed as aseparate group. Surveys have shown that heifers from all-heifer groups gave significantlymore milk than those fed in competition with cows.
  2. Feed according to production with an allowance for growth. Feed theheifer 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 thanmature cows.
  4. Reduce udder edema at calving by limiting grain intake to 6-8 lbs/dayfor the two weeks prior to calving. Provide salt free choice.
  5. Pay close attention to the body condition of the heifers and adjust thefeeding program accordingly.
  6. Allow a 60-day dry period even though heifers may still be milkingwell.