It is indisputable that well-grown heifers produce more milk, have better in-calf rates and survive longer in the herd. So, you can’t afford for them to have a growth check now.
R1s are already at a sensitive time in their growth. Their rumen is still developing, especially if meal has been stopped too soon, and their immune systems may not be fully functional. On top of which they can be exposed to new disease challenges at pasture. This means that turning them out to a pasture only diet and forgetting about them won’t cut it.
The most important thing is to monitor them. Whether they be on your dairy platform or runoff, or at grazing, you need to know how they are tracking. Ideally, this would be done through regular weighing and comparing these to MINDA target weights specific to your herd. This is the best indication of whether they are meeting their nutritional requirements. Heifers should be fed diets with more than 10.5 MJME/kg DM and adequate protein. Unfortunately, this isn’t the reality for most pastures at the moment. Therefore, tail-enders or mobs that are light should be supplemented with higher energy meal or palm kernel.
Ruminate Forage Balancer Weaner is another tool in the arsenal. It is a great product that is designed specifically to support calves through this transition period (100 – 150 kg LW). It is intended to supplement what is lacking in the pasture – carbohydrates for healthy rumen development and a full vitamin, trace element and mineral profile to support the immune system and growth. On top of this, it also contains a coccidiostat. We often see this clinical disease when calves are weaned off meal and are exposed to high challenges or stress, so it is great to have another way to prevent this until they have developed immunity themselves. Forage balancer comes as an easy-to-use lick that is water-resistant (not a problem at the moment!). And it is cost-effective as on average the liveweight increases are 290 g/calf/day!
Dr Danielle Thomson BVSc (Dist) Farm Vet at Paeroa Vets