Designing the First Heifer TMR – Cody Yanzick, Vita Plus

Posted on December 22, 2014 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Cody Yanzick, Vita Plus dairy specialist
Calf raisers focus a lot on optimizing calf diets, but a solid heifer nutrition program is equally important.  Good feed management for weaned calves can keep that momentum going as heifers get older.

Ingredient selection
I like to incorporate some grass/alfalfa hay into the calf TMR as it is soft and palatable.  Also, if possible, I try to use the same starter grain as approximately 50 percent of the first TMR in addition to rolled corn and a coarse protein mix containing a coccidiostat.  I do like to add a small amount of fermented forages that will be fed later to offer familiarity.  Liquid molasses at a rate of a half-pound per calf per day has worked well for palatability and ration consistency.

First introducing the TMR
Introduction of the first TMR should be approached with the same due diligence as the milk cow TMR.

The most common time to present the first TMR is shortly after calves have been weaned.

Calves should have free-choice grain and water for one week after milk while still remaining in their nursery pens.  Then move calves to group pens of usually 10 to 12 head per pen.  Pens should be sized appropriately with comfortable, dry bedding and easy access to water and feed.  I recommend calf raisers feed the same starter grain they received in the nursery for seven to 10 days post-move.  They are familiar with this feed and this strategy will help encourage intakes.  After that, you may introduce the first TMR.

The top mistake I see is starting heifers on a TMR too early or switching too rapidly.  Doing so results in poor calf health and performance.  The following are guidelines transition to a TMR.  See the transition timeline below for further details.

  • Wait seven to 10 days after weaning to introduce TMR.
  • After 10 days, feed a transition diet that is half starter and half first-stage TMR.  Feed this for seven to 10 days before feeding the first scheduled grower TMR.

Feedbunk considerations
Feed space and bunk height need to be closely watched so the new calves are not restricted from going to the feedbunk or manger.  I like a feedbunk or manger that has the right throat height and a feed rail or slant bars.  I discourage headlocks at this early age.

Other considerations

  • Choose the right size mixer. Most calf raisers mix small batches of heifer TMR.  Choose the right mixer size to match the small batches.  If the mixer is too big, it will be harder to get a good mix of the feed.
  • Choose the right type and style of mixer. Heifers should be introduced to dry hay from two to six months of age.  If you’re using a horizontal mixer, the hay needs to be preprocessed.  If you’re using a vertical mixer, it needs to be properly processed.  Optimal particle size increases as the heifer grows.  A particle size of a muzzle-width or less is a good rule of thumb.
  • Sequence feed ingredients according to the mixer manufacturer’s recommendations. This will help ensure adequate mixing of the concentrates, forages and other ingredients.
  • Feed young heifers a more concentrated TMR. In the first two to six months, I recommend a 50:50 concentrate/forage ratio or higher.  Depending on your forage quality, you may need only a limited amount of concentrate after six months of age.  Lower quality forages demand higher concentrate levels for adequate energy and protein intakes.
  • Continually monitor your equipment and protocols. Routinely check your scales for accuracy and check in with your feeding personnel to make sure they are following protocols.  The same rules of consistency for calves apply to growing heifers.
  • Regularly test the TMR for accuracy. On a quarterly basis, send samples of the TMR to the lab for accuracy analysis.  Take a sample at the beginning of feeding, in the middle and at the end.  This makes sure that the feed at the top of the mixer is consistent with the feed at the bottom.
  • Feed high quality and palatable forages to your young heifers. Feed once a day versus every couple of days to keep feed fresh and free of mold.  A common mistake is to give “junk feed” to young heifers.  However, it’s best to search for the lower cost ingredients and forages for older heifers.    Along the same lines, don’t feed milk cow refusals to young heifers.  You may feed a limited amount of good quality milk cow refusals to older heifers, but it depends on the health status of the herd.  Discuss this strategy with your nutritionist.
  • Monitor your cost versus heifer performance at various life stages. Good heifer management includes evaluating performance at various life stages.  Check heifers at weaning, pre-breeding and freshening to make sure you’re reaching the performance goals you’ve set for your farm.

Transition timeline

  • Wean calves at seven to eight weeks of age and when they are consuming a minimum of 3 pounds of starter grain for three consecutive days.
  • Leave calves in nursery pens or hutches for an additional week, offering starter grain and water only.
  • At nine to 10 weeks of age, move calves into group pens or bedded packs in groups of 10 to 12 calves.
  • Offer free-choice starter grain in group pens for seven to 10 days.  Intakes should approach 6 to 8 pounds per calf.
  • Offer a transition TMR for seven to 10 days after that and switch over to the first true TMR for approximately 30 days.
  • After that, move onto a second TMR with more forage and less grain and protein.  It should also have a higher percentage of fermented feeds, if desired, and some coarse high moisture shelled corn if available.  This TMR should be between 25- and 30-percent moisture.

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
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