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Management

Future Cattle Producers explore heifer nutrition

Written by Saige Albert

Casper – As the Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming recruits its next class, the young people currently involved in the program came together on April 27 at the Casper College Ranch to learn more about their options in production agriculture. 

A wide variety of speakers addressed program participants, with presentations geared toward finances, college and career opportunities, expected progeny differences, artificial insemination and nutrition. 

“Last year, we had a lot of phase one heifers,” said UW Extension Beef Specialist Steve Paisley. “A lot of the discussion we have to have now is where we want the heifers to be from a nutrition and condition standpoint.”

Condition

While it is important to have enough fat and condition on a heifer or cow prior to calving and breeding, Paisley also noted that too much condition can be problematic. 

Students involved in the program offered that heifers that are too fat don’t calve as easily and are harder to breed a second time. However, they also recognized that show animals often have more condition than a production animal would.

Paisley noted, “If we have animals in heavier condition, another issue is a drop in milk production.” 

As animals gain weight, fat can concentrate in the mammary glands, which yields reduced capacity for milk. 

“A short-term benefit from the showing aspect may have longer-term impacts when we talk about longevity and production,” he continued. 

Feeding strategy

When feeding heifers, Paisley noted that traditionally, the general goal is to feed heifers to 65 percent of their mature weight prior to the breeding season. 

“A lot of data would suggest that we want to feed heifers to that condition, and we get a higher breeding percentage, more cycling earlier and a higher conception rate for the first full cycle,” he said. “We’ll get a higher breeding percentage if they are between 750 and 800 pounds at breeding.”

While heifers at lighter weights may be bred as a first calf heifer, impacts may be seen later on. 

“A study comparing heifers at 50 versus 55 percent of their mature weight provided quite a bit of data that shows we may impact her ability to rebreed,” Paisley mentioned. “We can usually get our heifers bred because we pay quite a bit of management attention to them initially, but second calf heifers can be more difficult to get rebred.”

He added that data shows lighter weight heifers are more difficult to breed back a second time because they don’t return to cycling as quickly as more mature or heavier cows.

Nutritional requirements

At the time a cow is preparing for her second calf, one participant in the Future Cattle Producer program noted that the cow’s nutritional requirements are increased over that of a mature cow because she is trying to raise a calf while she continues to grow.

At the same time, Paisley mentioned, “If these cows are mixed with the rest of the herd, they aren’t dominant and they can get pushed around. They are more difficult to get bred back.”

Paisley noted that it is important to meet the nutritional requirements of cows and heifers to ensure performance.

Condition scoring

Body condition scores dramatically impact the reproductive performance of first calf heifers. 

“Body condition scoring is a management tool that doesn’t take a lot of time and is easy to do,” Paisley said, noting that the tool allows producers to assess the energy reserves that the cow has available. 

“To body condition score, we look at the ribcage, the edge of the loin, the hooks and pins, the tail head, sharpness of the front shoulder and amount of fill in the brisket and flank,” he explained. “We score animals between one and nine.”

Paisley added that one body condition score is roughly 80 pounds of live weight. 

“We have to realize that if a cow has to mobilize energy from their reserves, both protein and fat are used,” he explained. 

Particularly during colder winter months, Paisley mentioned that thinner cows have less insulation and, therefore, six percent higher maintenance requirements – which equates to about one pound of additional feed.

“Thinner cows have higher energy requirements than average or fleshy cows because of body condition score,” Paisley said. 

Stage of production

The stage of production of the cow or heifer – and particularly the stage of gestation – also impacts its nutritional requirements.

“In the last trimester, energy requirements go up by about 30 percent,” Paisley said, “and once they get into milk production, their energy requirements go up by another 30 percent for about 60 days.”

He added, “The stage of production has a big impact.”

Other factors

Cow size, milk production and the nutrition of the feed also impact the reproductive performance of the cow. 

“We know that heifers have higher energy requirements than a mature cow because of her additional growth requirements,” Paisley said. “As cows becomes larger, her feeding requirements also go up.”

The ability of the cow to produce milk also increases nutritional requirements. 

“We know that, given a cow of the same weight, each time we jump 10 pounds of milk production, nutritional requirements jump by three pounds of total digestible nutrients,” Paisley said.

“When we look at production, matching our cow to the environment and resources is pretty important,” he commented. “We have to keep in mind that the short-term nutrition decisions we make may have long-term impacts.”

Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming

The Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming program offers young people the chance to get a taste of the world of production agriculture through a donated heifer. 

In the program, students apply for the chance to receive a registered heifer from a Wyoming seedstock operation. If selected, students work with their donor to develop a management and recordkeeping system. They show and breed their heifer in the first year. 

During the second year of the program, the participant is then also required to return to fair with a video or virtual presentation of their cow/calf pair at the Wyoming State Fair. They are judged on the completeness of their record book, a presentation to a three-producer panel and a production efficiency calculation. 

Applications for the 2015-16 class are available now. The deadline to submit an application is May 15. Interviews will be conducted in June, and donors will be selected in July.

For questions on the Future Cattle Producers of Wyoming program, contact Scott Keith at 307-259-3274 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..