Category Archives: Feeding

Feeding Replacement Heifers

Roadblocks to Ranch Profitability

Here Are Eight Biggest Roadblocks to Ranch Profitability

The Grazier’s Art

Step one is to open your mind to change and add new ideas.

Published on: June 19, 2014

By Jim Elizondo

I took part in a discussion the other day on the biggest roadblocks to improving ranch profitability. Experience and logic tells me there are eight common problems.

Here’s my list:

1. Lack of interest in learning correct grazing management. This can increase profits by two to three times.

2. Lack of interest in learning marketing knowledge. This can be another way to greatly increase profits.

3. Lack of interest in learning low-stress stockmanship. This is a proven way to reduce medicine costs and have higher performance.

4. Lack of interest in protein supplementation when it’s needed or cost effective. Well-applied supplementation in certain environments can eliminate hay feeding and thus save around $100 per cow per year, particularly for people using low octane/high fiber stockpiled forages.

5. An incorrect mineral program leads to inefficiency in forage utilization in places where there are mineral imbalances and forages with poor mineral content.

6. Unadapted genetics: The more challenging the environment the more important it is to have adapted genetics.

7. High-octane genetics in low-octane forage environments is always a mistake. High-octane forages are those with moderate growth which hold quality well. Low-octane environments are characteristically high-growth environments with much lignification of the forages.

8. Use of outdated or unprofitable traditions. Usually it’s characterized by a phrase like, “We have always done it like this.” A closed mind is like a closed parachute, it won’t work until you open it.”

Solving these issues is the crux of the Regenerative Grazing schools taught by Johann Zietsman and me. You can learn more about these upcoming schools on my website.

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Understanding the nutrient requirements of the two-year-old cow

Probably the most pivotal time for a beef cow to maintain a position in the beef herd is the first three months after her first calf is born. This young cow is barely two years old and many things are happening to her. As a two year old, she is not a mature cow. She still has nutrient requirements for growth. Nutrient needs have been increasing steadily during her last trimester of pregnancy for the fetus; now she has a calf and her nutrient requirements are increasing even more for lactation. Peak lactation will not occur until about eight to nine weeks after the calf is born. If she is to remain on a 365 day calving interval, she must rebreed by 80 to 85 days after calving, which is shortly after peak lactation. It is important to remember that if a cow cannot meet all these demands, resumption of the estrous cycle will be the first to be compromised. Dr. Rick Rasby, UNL Beef Specialist in Lincoln summarized research that determined thin (body condition score < 5) young cows had a 36% to 66% pregnancy rate, while young cows maintained in good body condition had a 91% pregnancy rate. (See summary ).

Many producers have integrated crops and livestock operations and by the time the intense activity of calving is over, they are busy preparing for spring planting. When so many other pressing issues are at hand, it is easy to overlook the body condition of the young cow. By the time her drop in condition is noticed, it may not be possible for her to gain enough condition to rebreed in a timely manner. It is important for producers to monitor body condition and body condition score changes in the young cow before calving through breeding. A guide to understanding body condition scoring and how to use it to manage the nutritional needs of the cow can be found at the following link: Additionally, there is an app to help with body condition scoring at

The 1996 Nutrient Requirements for Beef Cows (NRC) estimates the young cow needs a diet high in total digestible nutrients (around 68% TDN) and crude protein content (CP) around 12.5% to be in a positive energy and metabolizable protein balance when her needs are greatest. Feeding 20 lbs. of hay that contains 60% TDN and 3 lbs. of dried distillers grains (DM basis) to a 1000 lbs. cow could meet this demand or 15 lbs. of wheat straw and 8 lbs. of wet distillers (DM basis) could meet it. The TDN content of most pastures in April, May, and June can also supply this need if the quantity of growth is enough to support the forage intake of the number of head grazing. If producers have pastures containing predominately cool season grass species, it is important to note these experience peak growth in June. Even producers with predominately warm season pastures may note a decrease in forage quality if rainfall is limited in July and August. Therefore, if young cows are to be bred in July and August, producers need to be aware that the %TDN of these pastures may be in the mid to low 50’s and the CP may be below 7%. In this situation, cow condition must be monitored carefully and a protein and energy supplement is likely needed. Feeds such as distillers grains, field peas, range cubes, or other regionally available high energy by-products may be warranted.

Source: Karla H. Jenkins, UNL Cow/Calf, Range Management Specialist

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Building Better Beef Replacement Heifers

Written by Dr. Jim White and Mike John
Thursday, 01 March 2012 20:40

Feed them right early and have them at breeding weight in time

The goal for selecting replacement heifers is simple—you want them to conceive, calve early in the calving season, provide adequate milk production and produce a calf every year. But much of what makes a good replacement heifer begins long before you begin to eye the keepers. Dam nutrition has distinct and long-term implications for replacement heifers.

Heifer development is influenced by how the cow carrying the heifer was fed prior to the heifer being born. While you are familiar with the challenges of calf vigor born to dams calving thin, you might not know about studies that show how appropriate protein supplementation to late-gestation cows has a lasting effect on heifers.

Work at the University of Nebraska looked at the effects of nutrition of dams on growth and reproductive performance of their heifer calves. One group of last-trimester cows got a pound of 40-percent protein supplement three times a week, the control group didn’t. In the study, cows were managed similarly during calving and breeding. The research lasted three years—long enough for researchers to get a good look at the effects of feeding an appropriate protein supplement to late-gestation cows. Results showed that supplementing cows with protein during late gestation made for heavier heifers at weaning and breeding. Moreover, the heifers from protein-supplemented dams had higher pregnancy rates and earlier calving dates.

Aside from successful nutrition during gestation, pre-weaning management of heifer calves influences lifetime productivity. Heifers should be programmed to calve early during their first calving season. They will tend to calve early and wean heavier calves throughout their lifetime. Poorly developed heifers will fail to conceive or will calve late the first year and wean lighter calves.

Many of the heifers that calve late will be open after a limited breeding season.
With that in mind, there are several goals to work toward when developing heifers. Hopefully they will: 1) reach puberty by 12 to 14 months of age; 2) achieve high percentage for conceiving early in the breeding season; 3) be structurally large enough to minimize dystocia.
Due to the record-high value of feeder heifers and the high cost of developing replacement heifers, it makes sense to pay attention to genetic factors when selecting and breeding replacement heifers.

As stated above, selecting potential replacements from heifers born early in the calving season will make it easier to assure that they do the same when they calve.
Along those lines, the cost of using proven AI sires can be justified in the immediate added value of offspring from the insemination. And, it will pay in other ways in the future. One way this practice proves its future value is that heifers that conceive to AI have proven their ability to conceive early under a process that often has a lower conception rate than natural service. Odds are high that she will continue to do so in future years. Plus, bull calves from the AI services should be heavier and have predictable performance based on high accuracy EPDs. There are also well-documented advantages for multi-generational “stacking” of those predictable traits in future replacement heifers.

Feeding Replacement Heifers

Develop a ration geared toward adequate growth, not fattening. Given typical weaning ages, medium-frame heifers need to gain about 1.5 pounds per head daily from weaning to breeding. Large-framed continental breeds and crosses need to gain more than 1.5 pounds daily. Puberty is a function of both age and weight, so rate of gain can vary during the development period. Just make sure heifers reach the desired weight and appropriate body composition before breeding time.

To ensure that all heifers reach these weights before breeding, feed them separately from the cow herd. If possible, sort according to size. Smaller heifers require a more nutrient-dense diet and a higher rate of intake to attain target weights in the same timeframe as larger heifers. Remember that feeding replacement heifers similarly to terminal heifers will push the replacements heavier than they need to be—a costly proposition these days. Moreover, heifers that gain too fast have a tendency to have lower lifetime productivity, another costly proposition.

To determine the average daily gain needed for a group of heifers, subtract their average weight from the desired weight at breeding, and then divide by the number of days of feeding before the start of the breeding season.

Most heifers need to gain 1 to 1.5 pounds per day during the feeding period. Nutrient requirements for growing heifers to gain at these rates are listed in the nearby at right. These requirements are based on neutral conditions. Housing and other environmental conditions drastically influence the energy requirement of the animals.

Many combinations of feeds can be used for growing heifers—as long as intake and nutrient composition are appropriate. If you have to allow for error, it is better to overfeed protein than to overfeed energy. Heifers need to be grown rapidly but not fattened, so better-than-average forage should be offered. If heifers are on stockpiled pastures, they should be fed at least four to five pounds of Trendsetter Developer per head daily to attain the recommended weight gains; two to four pounds per head per day is the lower end of the feeding rate. Often, the feeding program can be divided into one of four scenarios: 1) the operation has a forage base; 2) the operation also has grain storage; 3) the operation uses grain co-products; 4) the operation uses corn or sorghum silages to develop heifers.

Taking periodic measurements of animal weight and height are helpful in determining if heifers are growing at the proper rate. Some cycling, estrus activity should be observed in the heifers by six weeks prior to the breeding season. If you don’t see estrus activity six weeks or so prior, it’s likely that the heifers are smaller than they need to be. If that’s the case, you have roughly a month to get enough weight on them so they will be cycling at breeding. If the situation arises in which you need to put on weight on a deadline, feed Full Throttle or Cattle Charge at two percent of bodyweight per head per day along with free-choice forage.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated. Mike John is director of MFA’s Health Track program.

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Research shows heifers, cows can be fed less before breeding

February 10, 2014 10:15 am  •  By SUE ROESLER 

MILES CITY, Mont. – The beef industry has recommended for decades that heifers and cows need to be fed very well prior to breeding in order to maximize pregnancy rates, but new research is casting some doubt on that premise.

Over the past 10 years researchers have been conducting studies on the topic, according to Andy Roberts, animal scientist at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Lab in Miles City, Mont.

“The beef industry has traditionally recommended that cows be fed to a minimum body condition and heifers be fed to a recommended 60-65 percent of mature body weight (which occurs around 5-years-ofage) pre-breeding in order to achieve high pregnancy rates,” Roberts said.

In other words, the industry recommended producers meet a very high nutritional standard.

In 2001, scientists at Fort Keogh set out to determine if the industry standard was correct. With feed being one of the highest costs in raising cattle, especially in times of drought, could heifers and cows be fed less and still maintain high pregnancy rates?

Roberts said they decided to do the research because 1) the research was very old (from the 1960s); 2) there has been a great deal of genetic changes in cattle over the years; and 3) not all cows have to be at the recommended body condition prebreeding to become pregnant, Roberts said.

The scientists began the research with around 350 cows at Fort Keogh in the fall of 2001 and extended the research with about 150 of their female calves the next fall, he said. Cattle used in the research were from the Composite Herd (CGC) developed at Fort Keogh composed of 50 percent Red Angus; 25 percent Charolais and 25 percent Tarentaise.

That research has been duplicated and duplicated over the last decade and results continue to come out about the same, Roberts said.

Half of the group was fed to industry standards and half was fed less, he explained. Cows in both groups had access to as much grass on pasture as they wanted to eat while grazing. Cows grazing winter pastures were fed alfalfa hay as a supplementation based on textbook recommendations, Roberts said.

“The research has been repeated every year on all cows that got pregnant and remained in the herd over the last decade and results continue to come out about the same,” Roberts said.

Each year there were some slight differences in the results due to the fact the cows were out on pasture which varied in quality, since some years had lots of rain and the grass grew thick and hardy while in a drought year the grass could be skimpy, he said.

“Results were highly dependent on rain and grass growth,” Roberts said.

Other differences can happen when the research is applied to real-life situations, Roberts said. Cows managed to be smaller cattle may gain more efficiently than cows who are abundantly fed to be fatter cattle. When feed becomes limited, fatter cattle will be more susceptible to losing weight and be adversely affected, he explained.

The cows in the research study were fed alfalfa cake or alfalfa hay to supplement dormant forage three times a week. Cows in the industry standard group were fed an amount that would be equivalent to about 4 pounds per cow per day.

Cows not in the industry standard group were fed what was expected to be marginal levels of the same feed (equivalent to about 2.4 pounds per day), based on average quality and availability of winter feed, Roberts said.

The winter feeding treatments for the cows were started in December and ended in March, just before calving.

In a group fed to industry standards, researchers expect about 10 percent to be open after breeding.

“We knew there would be some failures no matter how they are fed,” Roberts said. “We never observed any differences between the two different levels of supplementation, with the average over the years being about 90 percent pregnant for both groups, with more than 1,000 observations per group.”

Another aspect of the research has been to look at the effect of reducing the amount of feed provided during the heifer development stage of production, Roberts said.

After weaning, all the heifers from the cow trial were put in the feedlot for a 140- day feeding trial from December through April.

Control heifers were fed to industry standards, which was about all they would eat.

Restricted heifers received 80 percent of the same diet (a mix of corn silage, alfalfa and a supplement) as controls depending on their body weight, Roberts said. A 540- pound heifer would not be expected to thrive on the same amount of feed as a 500-pound heifer.

“Over 140 days of the feeding treatment trial, the restricted heifers received 26 percent less feed than the controls depending on their weight,” Roberts said. Heifers were  weighed every four weeks, so feed could be adjusted, he added.

After the end of the 140-day trial, heifers were all fed the same.

Beginning around June 1, heifers were AI’d and placed with cleanup bulls over a 46 to 62 day period, depending on the year.

If producers follow the industry standards for feeding, there should be about a 90 percent pregnancy rate after breeding, Robinson said.

“If the group runs a 90 percent pregnancy rate, that is a good rate,” he said.

Scientists at Fort Keogh found about the same pregnancy rates occurring in the limit-fed heifers as in the controls.

“The first three to four years, there was a 2-4 percent difference in the pregnancy rate. The controls had a 91 percent pregnancy rate, and the restricted-fed had an 88 percent pregnancy rate,” Roberts said.

After 10 years, they averaged the pregnancy rates and found no statistical difference between the controls and the restricted-fed cows and heifers, he said.

“It averaged over 10 years to be about an 89 percent pregnancy rate,” Roberts said.

The take-home message is there is an  opportunity for producers to save some feeding costs in heifer development, he said.

It is important research because prebreeding feeding definitely affects the producers’ bottom-line, said Roberts.

Their decade-long research is so unique , he added, that it is catching national and international attention.

“We have been invited to give talks around the country and are even garnering international attention,” he said.

One of the most rewarding results is that Roberts and his colleagues have been working with Montana livestock producers, some of whom have adopted the limited feeding methods, and have found it working for their herds.

One producer has saved $40,000 in feed costs in one year, according to Roberts, adding that while he is a large producer that is feeding many cattle, it still is exciting results.

“It means a lot to me that our research can be implemented in real-life situations, and is a cost savings for our producers,” Roberts said. “That is what we are all about.”

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