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Feed key to better heifers

Published on 6 July, 2009, Last updated at 01:18 GMT
Feed key to better heifers

Australia - South Gippsland dairy farmers Peter and Catherine Hanrahan have seen big improvements in the performance of their heifers over the past four years.

Their heifers are better grown, get in calf more easily, need less help calving, produce more milk in their first lactation and have a lower cull rate as mature cows.

Peter said ensuring heifers always had access to quality feed was the key.

"We use artificial insemination exclusively over our herd," he said.

"Our heifers represent a major investment in genetics, so we can't afford not to feed them."

Feeding supplements to heifers has been made easier by using self-feeders with restricted intake pellets.

The system is both effective and saves time.

The pellets are a relatively new development and only produced by a small number of feed mills.

The Hanrahans' 600-cow split-calving herd is milked on their home farm at Stony Creek, near Meeniyan.

The early stages of calf rearing are managed on the home farm, with calves fed milk, pellets and hay until they reach 100kg.

They are run in groups of 35 and fed using a trailer in the paddock.

All calves have access to high-protein pellets from one week old, as well as lucerne hay for the first three or four months. They are drenched every four to six weeks in the first year.

At about three to four months, heifers are moved to a run-off block at Meeniyan, where they are grown out and joined before being brought back to the home farm at the point of calving.

It's at this stage that the self-feeders and restricted intake pellets come into their own.

"Autumn-drop calves are fed pellets for at least six months of the year and spring-drop calves at least nine months of the year," Peter said.

The restricted intake pellets are fed out using one-tonne self-feeders placed in the paddocks and topped up twice a week.

Once heifers reach six months, they are run in mobs of 50 per feeder. They are also fed quality hay and silage when quality pasture is not available.

The pellets have been developed by Dr Peter DeGaris, of the Tarwin Veterinary Group, who advises the Hanrahans on herd nutrition.

Produced by a local feed mill, the pellets contain 12 MJ ME/kg DM and 14 per cent crude protein.

While the protein level is relatively low for growing heifers, the pellets also contain BioChlor and a number of other additives that increase rumen bacterial growth and the total yield of rumen bacterial protein per gram of fermentable carbohydrate.

The level of different salts in the pellets restricts a heifer's daily intake to 1.5 per cent of its body weight.

"Before we used the restricted intake pellets, we were feeding pellets in troughs seven days a week," Peter said.

"It was labour-intensive and produced variable results.

"Some calves didn't eat enough, others ate too much and got acidosis and the end result was uneven heifers."

The restricted intake pellets not only produce better heifers, they save labour, as the self-feeders only need to be topped two or three times a week instead of every day.

That's meant the Hanrahans and their staff can spend more family time at the beach each summer.


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