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 Growing Programs for Developing Heifers from Weaning to Breeding

     As was pointed out previously, yearling heifers conceiving early in their first breeding season will have increased lifetime production and efficiency. It is critical that these heifers attain enough weight to initiate their first estrous cycle before the onset of the breeding season. Current management practices target heifers to reach 65% of their estimated mature weight by the start of the breeding season. However, until recently very little was known regarding the importance of the timing of this weight gain. Would it be desirable to have the heifers gain at an even pace at approximately 1.33 pounds per day? OR could some biological and economical efficiencies be gained by growing the heifers slowly through most of the winter and then putting them on a very high plane of nutrition for the last two months prior to breeding?

     Kansas State University and Oklahoma State University researchers have independently studied the timing of gain. Kansas State workers noted that heifers that gained at .55 pound per day until the last two months and then were grown at 2.5 pounds per day were equal in reproductive performance to heifers grown at 1.31 pounds per day from November to May. The heifers that were "pushed" in the last two months actually were more efficient consuming 12% lest dry matter than the conventionally grown heifers. At OSU the research indicated that heifers were wintered at .6 pound per day then drylotted and gained at 1.92 pounds per day reached puberty 20 to 30 days younger than their counter parts that were fed to gain at more uniform rates. This indicated that growing programs that allow heifers low to moderate rates of gain during most of the growing phase and then accelerates their growth leading into the breeding season may be very cost effective and result in more heifers cycling early. This could be critical to the success of an A.I. and estrous synchronization program.

Cost comparisons under different feed cost scenarios

     To help make decisions about heifer growing strategies a table included below contains total cost comparisons of feed for heifers from weaning on November 1 to start of breeding season on May 1. The SLOW-FAST program is designed to "rough" heifers through the winter an inexpensively as possible. The assumed SLOW diet is two pounds per head per day of a high protein supplement such as cottonseed meal. The remainder of the diet is prairie hay (5.8% crude protein) fed free choice. Average daily gain on this diet for medium frame 500 pound heifers (according to 1984 NRC) is only .35 pounds per day. The FAST gain portion is a self-fed ration that is programmed to achieve the required 3.16 pounds per day the last 60 days in order to reach the 65% of mature weight target. This ration is as follows:

  • Cottonseed hulls 10%
  • Alfalfa pellets 5%
  • Corn 49.5%
  • Corn distillers grain 30.0%
  • Molasses 4.5%
  • Vit A’ Rumensin 80, limestone, salt, zinc sulfate 1%

     During this FAST growing phase the heifers will average 620 pounds and consume at 20.4 pounds on an as fed basis.

     The diet that was formulated to achieve the EVEN GAIN from November to May was chosen to supply 1.33 pounds per day. Average weight of the heifers during this growing program would be 595 pounds and they would need to consume 15.4 pounds of the following ration to reach the desired target weight:

  • Prairie hay 47%
  • Corn 35%
  • Cottonseed meal 14%
  • Molasses 3%
  • Vitamin A’ salt, Rumensin 80, zinc oxide 1%

A second alternative, if alfalfa hay was available, would be:

  • Alfalfa hay (18%) 66%
  • Corn 33%
  • Vitamin A’ salt, Rumensin 80, zinc oxide 1%

     The total feed ingredient cost for these heifer growing programs were compared under 4 different corn price scenarios (Table 2). Because most other feeds are affected by the corn price it was used as the basic feedstuff Hay prices and cottonseed meal prices are listed as estimates of what they might be as the corn price changed.

     Under lower grain price situations the SLOW FAST gain approach appears to be slightly less expensive. The added advantage more heifers cycling earlier could make these growing programs the method of choice on ranches that synchronize and breed artificially.

Table 2. Price comparisons of EVEN GAIN and SLOW FAST growing programs under different feed price situations. 

Corn $2/bu Corn 3.10/bu Corn 4.60/bu Corn 5/bu
CSM 160/T CSM 220/T CSM 240/T CSM 260/T
Hay 50/T Hay 60/T Hay 80/T Hay 80/T
EVEN
GAIN 104.78 145.80 184.89 195.70
163.83 alfalfa hay/corn
SLOW
FAST 99.08 133.55 178.56 195.48


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