10 tips for keeping first-calf heifers in tip-top shape

By  Amanda Radke in BEEF Daily

Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference ManualFirst-calf heifers require special management to maintain body condition score, grow a healthy calf, and breed back. Here are 10 tips for keeping first-calf heifers in tip-top shape.

Calving season is underway for many ranchers. In our operation, we’ve finished calving out the first-calf heifersand have moved on to our mature cows. For first-calf heifers, calving and lactation occur at a time when they are still growing themselves. These are major stressors that, if ignored, can lead to a lowered body condition score (BCS), delayed rebreeding or a smaller calf.

A Handbook for Ranch Managers“While calving can often be a major stressor on your heifers, more subtle stress may take its toll on them,” Aerica Bjurstrom, University of Wisconsin Extension ag specialist, writes in a recent Ohio State University Beef Newsletter. “Two-year-old heifers calve at approximately 85% of their mature weight. Her entire first lactation requires her to continue growing, go through the stress of calving, produce milk, and raise a calf, all while being at the bottom of the pecking order among cows in the herd. Monitoring BCS in first-calf heifers is critical to success. Ideally, you would like to keep your heifers at a BCS of 5-6. Animals with excess body condition (greater than 7) have lower reproductive performance.”Environmental & Natural Resource Economics: The Austrian View

Bjurstrom offers 10 strategies to help first-calf heifers wean a bigger calf, breed back sooner, and improve longevity. These include:

  1. Graze first-calf heifers and mature cows separately. Graze first-calf heifers either with three-year olds or virgin replacement heifers.
  2. Always give heifers the best-quality pasture available.
  3. Supplement first-calf heifers with grains (energy) like corn, corn silage, or barley before they lose body condition.

Combat Shooter's HandbookReconnaissance Marine MCI 03.32f: Marine Corps InstituteThe Betrayed: On Warriors, Cowboys and Other Misfits“Thin heifers don’t breed back quickly, if at all,” says Bjurstrom. “If she rebreeds late, it will take several lactations to get her back on track with the rest of the herd. The plane of nutrition during the last 50 to 60 days before calving has a significant effect on calving interval. In addition, feeding a balanced diet during late gestation will decrease calving difficulty.”

  1. Wean calves off heifers at 5-6 months of age.
  2. If heifers are thin at calving, calves may need to be weaned extra early.
  3. Keep a high-quality, complete mineral available for first-calf heifers.
  4. Use strategic deworming programs for young cows.
  5. Control external parasites.
  6. Calve heifers 3-4 weeks before the cows calve.

The Essence of Liberty: Volume I: Liberty and History: The Rise and Fall of the Noble Experiment with Constitutionally Limited Government (Liberty and ... Limited Government) (Volume 1)  The Essence of Liberty: Volume II: The Economics of Liberty (Volume 2) The Essence of Liberty: Volume III: A Universal Philosophy of Political Economy (Liberty: A Universal Political Ethic) (Volume 3) Bjurstrom says, “This practice can be implemented for the 2016 breeding season. The special time devoted to only heifers will allow you to focus on potential calving issues and recruit extra help, if needed. If you choose to manage heifers separately, it is important to remember that calving early means pasture will likely not be available when needed, so additional nutrients will need to be supplemented.”

  1. Keep a close eye on body condition score.

With a little extra TLC, your bred heifers will make it past the first calving season and better weather the major stressors that come with birthing their first calf and rebreeding on a timely basis. Keep these considerations in mind so bred heifers stay in the herd for years to come.

Do you offer extra care to your first-calf heifers? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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Planned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference ManualPlanned Grazing: A Study Guide and Reference Manual. This is the ideal squeal to A Handbook for Ranch Managers.  Although the ecological principles remain the same, what was originally known as “The Savory Grazing Method” now answers to a multitude of different names: ranching for profit, holistic management, managed grazing, mob grazing, management intensive grazing, etc. Land & Livestock International, Inc. uses “Restoration Grazing” under its “Managing the Ranch as a Business” program.” No mater what you call it, this summary and synopsis will guide you step by step through the process and teach you how to use it as it was originally intended. No more excuses for failing to complete your grazing plans.

About Land & Livestock Interntional, Inc.

Land and Livestock International, Inc. is a leading agribusiness management firm providing a complete line of services to the range livestock industry. We believe that private property is the foundation of America. Private property and free markets go hand in hand—without property there is no freedom. We also believe that free markets, not government intervention, hold the key to natural resource conservation and environmental preservation. No government bureaucrat can (or will) understand and treat the land with as much respect as its owner. The bureaucrat simply does not have the same motives as does the owner of a capital interest in the property. Our specialty is the working livestock ranch simply because there are so many very good reasons for owning such a property. We provide educational, management and consulting services with a focus on ecologically and financially sustainable land management that will enhance natural processes (water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics) while enhancing profits and steadily building wealth.
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