Feeding to win (Part 2)
As I mentioned in the first article of this series, following the same management practices as in a commercial setting – keeping calves clean and dry in a facility with proper ventilation, offering clean water, and managing them in a consistent manner – will keep the fair-prospect calf, in any barn, on par with the desired growth.
However, to help these individuals reach their maximum genetic potential as quickly as possible, management practices not normally performed in a commercial setting have to be added to this list.
Additional management practices to consider when taking care of show heifers are:
- Group size: Maximize animal comfort and bunk space by keeping calves in small groups, preferably two to four animals per group depending on the size of the pen. This will promote less competition at the feedbunk, yet calves will still have the opportunity to socialize. Calves are very social creatures and this need should be fulfilled for optimal health.
- Proper ventilation: Animals need to breathe clean, fresh air to maximize comfort and growth. Facilities that contain stagnant air can increase respiratory disorders, so it is imperative to use numerous fans to move air in the hot summer time to maintain comfort.
- Clean & fresh water: Clean waterers drive water intake, resulting in the ideal heifer hay consumption. Maximizing hay intake improves heifer rib structure for a fuller, more desirable appearance.
- Cleanliness: Keeping calves clean helps them utilize energy for growth versus using energy on keeping them warm and comfortable when they are wet and dirty. In addition, keeping the animals clean helps improve their hair quality and appearance. Body clipping the animal every four weeks and washing it every other day significantly improves hair quality and animal comfort. Most experienced cattle exhibitors apply water to their show heifers at night; this combination of cool weather and cold water drives hair growth.
- Exercise: Exercise is very critical for yearling heifers to develop lean muscle in order to accentuate their dairy features.
When working with show heifers, focus on the basic management practices and take care of them in a consistent manner in small group sizes to produce optimal results. From there, fine-tune the diet by limiting energy and pushing high-quality feed sources while feeding a palatable high NDF grass hay to help maximize growth and reach their genetic potential. While some may rely on luck and superior genetics, with good management and a quality feed program, you can turn that September calf into the champion you knew she had the potential to be.
About the author: Nick Uglow is a sales and nutrition consultant at Vita Plus Lake Mills. Uglow grew up on his family’s registered Brown Swiss and Holstein dairy farm in Watertown, Wisconsin. He earned a bachelor’s degree in dairy science and agricultural journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000. Since then, he has worked as an account executive for an agricultural marketing firm as well as a dairy feed and sales consultant and has experience fitting and caring for dairy cattle for shows and sales. Nick still owns Brown Swiss cattle and works with his parents on the family farm, where he lives with his wife, Buffy, and dog, Melvin.
Calf and heifer nutrition
Show ring success