Optimize Heifer Performance with TMR Management

Posted on November 8, 2012 in Starting Strong - Calf Care
Calf raisers invest a lot of time and energy into optimizing calf performance. Good feed management with young heifers can help to keep that momentum going as calves get older.

Cody Yanzick, Vita Plus dairy nutritionist, has spent a lot of time helping producers develop their grower programs to meet heifers’ needs. He provides several tips for introducing, feeding and monitoring heifer TMRs.
  • 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. Yanzick said 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, Yanzick recommends 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.
  • Transition animals to new TMRs. Yanzick said the number one mistake he sees 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:
    • 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.
  • 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. Yanzick said a common mistake is to give “junk feed” to young heifers. However, he said 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 feed consultant.
  • Monitor your cost versus heifer performance at various life stages. Yanzick reminds producers that 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.

Category: Calf and heifer nutrition
Starting Strong - Calf Care