Estimating Feed Intake of Dairy Heifers: A Quick Discussion – Pat Hoffman, Vita Plus

Posted on October 28, 2015 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
By Pat Hoffman, Vita Plus dairy technical specialist
Estimating feed intake (dry matter intake) of dairy heifers is an important part of dairy heifer nutrition, but there is a little catch and a trick to get it close.

Many of us use heifer bodyweight to estimate feed intake of dairy heifers.  Bodyweight-based heifer feed intake equations “sort of” work, but often dairy heifer feed intake is greater or less than predicted.  So what’s the catch?

The catch:  Dairy heifer feed intake is also very sensitive to the amount of NDF in the diet.  For example when a low NDF (40 percent), high-quality forage-based diet is fed to bred heifers, feed intake will be greater than desired, perhaps causing over-conditioning.

The trick:  Use NDF intake for formulating dairy heifer diets and estimating dry matter (feed) intake.  NDF intake as a percentage of bodyweight is nearly a constant 1.0 percent of bodyweight in dairy heifers.  Thus, at a given heifer bodyweight, feeding the proper or desired amount of NDF to a dairy heifer is what is controlling her daily feed intake.

The chart below defines dietary NDF, NDF intakes and dry matter intakes for Holstein heifers based on bodyweight.

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Starting Strong - Calf Care