Heifers often join the herd underweight and unable to perform to their potential.
If heifers are sent to a grazier it pays to remember that any transport that occurs can be a stressful experience and can cause growth checks. The same occurs when a group of animals are formed and a new hierarchy has to be established at the grazing property. Transportation stress has been shown to increase cortisol levels and increase numbers of neutrophils. When stress occurs, it disrupts the normal functioning of the animal and in cases, can lead to illness. In addition, the energy and minerals needed for stress response is then not available for normal growth needs
A supplementary feed can be considered at this time in order to help prevent the weight loss or to help maintain weights. A budget should be set to feed 1-2 kg of a transition / weight gain pellet. A diet containing moderate amounts of NDF, starch and protein is ideal; including a vitamin and mineral premix.
Calves coming on to the property should be weighed as early as practically possible. This gives a base line for further weights through the growing period and also helps identify if there are any smaller animals under 100 kg. It is not necessary, nor economically viable, to continue with supplementary feeding throughout the time animals are on farm if sufficient, good quality pasture or silage is available. These feeds can more than meet the needs of growing heifers. However, in times of drought or other feed shortage, additional pelleted feed is an option to ensure animals keep up to their weight targets. As with all groups of animals, there will be a tail, animals that are not performing as expected. With regular weighing and a targeted growth plan, the tail can be grouped together. This allows for strategic use of additional supplementary feed. These animals can then be put back with the rest of the herd once they have caught up and if necessary, a new tail group formed.
Feed should be a specification similar to (Dry Matter basis):
- Protein = 16%
- ME = 12 MJ/kg
- Starch = 25%
- NDF = 35%
Minerals included should include Vitamin E and selenium to support the immune system.