While strong cattle prices are encouraging beef producers to develop replacement heifers it pays to condition bred heifers for optimal health, says Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension emeritus livestock specialist.
Replacement heifers that will calve in January and February must grow and maintain body condition for best calving results.
"Ideally, 2-year-old heifers should be in a body condition score of six at the time their first calf is born," he said. "This allows them the best opportunity to provide adequate colostrum to the newborn, repair the reproductive tract, return to heat cycles, rebreed on time for next year and continue normal body growth."
In terms of production and management, the heifers typically need to be gaining about one pound per head per day from now until calving time, assuming that the animals are in good body condition coming out of summer.
Also, the heifers will need supplemental protein, if the major source of forage in the diet is bermudagrass or native pasture or grass hay. If the forage source is adequate in quantity and average in quality, say 6% to 9% crude protein, heifers will need about two pounds of a high protein – between 38% and 44% crude protein – in supplement each day.
"This will probably need to be increased with higher quality hay such as alfalfa or additional energy feed such as 20% range cubes as winter weather creates additional nutrient requirements," Selk said. "Soybean hulls or wheat-mids also may be used to ensure adequate energy intake of pregnant heifers."
Provided adequate rainfall produces necessary growth, wheat pasture can be used as a supplement for pregnant replacement heifers. Using wheat pasture judiciously makes sense for pregnant heifers for two reasons:
• Pregnant heifers consuming full feed of wheat pasture will gain at about three pounds per head per day. If they are on the wheat too long the heifers can become obese and cause calving difficulty.
• The wheat pasture can be used for gain of stocker cattle or weaned replacement heifers more efficiently. If wheat pasture is used for bred heifers, use it judiciously as a protein supplement by allowing the heifers access to the wheat pasture on alternate days.
Some cattle producers have reported that one day on wheat pasture and two days on native range or bermudagrass pasture appear to work best.
"This encourages the heifers to go rustle in the warm season pasture for the second day, rather than just stand by the gate waiting to be turned back in to the wheat," Selk said.
Whatever method is used to grow the pregnant replacement heifers, Selk reminds producers to be aware of how their management is ensuring the animals are in good body condition by calving so that the heifers will grow into fully-developed productive cows.
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