You’ve spent months flipping through sale catalogs, watching videos and researching EPDs to find the perfect show heifer for the 2021 season. Now that she’s standing in your barn though, how do you make sure she’s at her best before you hit the road?
Creating the right feeding program for your animal is key to making sure she performs well both in, and out, of the show ring. The first step is to study your heifer’s characteristics - breed, body composition and pedigree - to help you determine her strengths and weaknesses so you know exactly what she needs in her feed pan.
If you’re used to feeding market animals, then feeding breeding heifers is quite different - it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a long-term goal. You want longevity in your heifers and for them to make great breeding females for your herd long after they leave the show ring. Compared to market animals, you typically want to give your heifers feed with more fiber and less fat.
“On a feed tag, most of your grower feed for heifers is going to be 11-13% protein and probably 2.5-3.5% fat. But, you also want one that’s 18-25% on fiber, with higher being better,” said Purina Honor® Show Chow® Ambassador, Dave Allan. “Unless you have a young, skinny heifer, then you don’t need as high of fiber content.”
Feeding heifers can be challenging, and monitoring their feed intake and what they look like is a priority to keep them at their best. The biggest mistake made when feeding a heifer is getting them too fat which becomes a huge problem, especially down the road in terms of reproduction.
“Young females that are greener will have to be pushed a little bit harder,” said Allan. “But, I think the biggest mistake I see is once the heifer starts to look good, not recognizing the day to slow down or cut out the feed to almost nothing, so that those heifers stay fresh in their condition.”
Keeping your heifer fresh and not too fat is critical when it’s time to breed. When heifers are over-conditioned, they have too much fat around their ovaries and it becomes very hard for them to reproduce. When your heifer is getting too fat, the first place you can tell is her brisket.
“The easiest place to read when they’re getting too fat is on their chest and their pin bone. If their brisket starts getting wider when you look at them from the front, then it’s time to be careful and slow down,” said Allan. “In cattle, they get fat from the front, back and to the top, down.”
Once you’re happy with how your heifer looks and is performing, it’s important to maintain the consistency you’ve been giving her.
“If you’re taking feed out, replacing feed with straight cotton seed hulls is a good way to keep them full and keep them fresh,” said Allan. “But, you probably need to add some protein to the diet like some Champion Drive.”
Consistency is key
While creating the perfect feeding program is a key component to making sure your heifer is at peak performance, there are many other important factors. One of those is making sure cattle have access to clean, fresh water consistently because water drives feed intake.
“It’s important to have a good, quality feed but things that get overlooked are plenty of fresh, clean water and quality grass hay that is available at free choice, or at least available all night,” said Allan.
Cattle also crave consistency. It’s important to not only feed consistently, but to keep track of what your cattle are eating so you can clean out old feed each day.
“One of the most important things is to be consistent - the amount that you feed and the time that you feed,” said Allan.
Consistency is key to really help you monitor your heifer’s progress. If you’re not, it can be hard to know exactly what changes need to be made. Allan also strongly recommends that cattle be fed separately, in separate pans and pens to help you monitor how much they eat.
“It’s important because every animal is different in two ways,” said Allan. “One, how aggressive they are eating; some are more aggressive and eat faster. Two, some of them convert easier than others; they get fatter on less feed or grow faster on less feed.”
It’s also important to pay attention to their overall appearance and hair coat. A good practice is to take video or pictures of your heifer regularly. As a caretaker, it’s harder to notice differences when you see your heifer on a daily basis.
Be patient with your heifers when changing up their feeding programs. It can take time to see the changes you’re wanting. Filler products may only take a week or two to see results, but others can take 30 to 90 days.
“I think a minimum of 30 days and if you have a skinny one and you’re feeding them really hard, you really won’t see results until about 90 days,” said Allan. “It’s because they have to get some internal fat before they get external fat. People get in too much of a hurry. They think if they have a skinny one they can change it in 30 days but you can’t.”
Other factors come into play when making sure your animal is gaining and looking her best. Make sure she is up to date on all shots and consult with your local vet to make sure your animal stays healthy. It’s also critical to feed a probiotic during a heavy travel season to make sure feed intake stays consistent and your heifer stays healthy.
Ultimately, make sure you’re feeding a quality feed, providing plenty of good water and grass hay and be consistent to make sure your heifer is ready to step in the ring this spring.
This article was originally published in the Texas Limousin News magazine. View the full magazine at: https://issuu.com/texaslimousin/docs/tla_winterissue_2020.