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HEIFER MANAGEMENT - PART I

The management of stud and commercial heifers aims at producing a breeding female with high fertility, calving ease and high production. This ensures she has a long herd life because of her desirable genetic influence. It takes close to four years to demonstrate a successful outcome for each heifer. No wonder heifer management is at the heart of every profitable cattle breeding enterprise!

Genetics, nutrition and husbandry must be carefully applied for optimal effect, in a tailor-made operation throughout this four year period. Skill in observation of animal and pasture is paramount. A good knowledge of genetics complements the application of sound husbandry procedures.

In considering the management of heifers we need to look at each stage from conception through to the birth of the heifer's second calf, just 45 months after she was herself conceived. The influence of genetics, nutrition and husbandry for both dam and developing foetus are important.

The challenge is for you to compare your current management with the principles described. Maybe a simple adjustment to your management practices can achieve an improvement in profitability. Maybe your strike-rate is fairly good already.

One thing is for certain. Whatever our current situation, the future of Australia's beef industry requires us to search and strive to do better. Our aim must be to meet the consumers satisfaction with our product - the beef meal. Best management of our heifers makes a great start.

Those critical 45 months
The critical 45 months start at 'minus 9' when the heifer calf is conceived in her dam's uterus. They finish at 'plus 36' when her second calf is born. Table 1 outlines the steps. Obviously in a mob situation not all heifers conceive on the same day. A band-width of opportunity must be arranged. The tighter this time frame the more effectively you can monitor and manage the optimal nutrition and husbandry for the mob. A short joining period is essential for success.

Table 1

Months Managment Issues
-9 Heifer calf is conceived in dam's uterus. Lifetime genetic potential established
-6 End of dam's first trimester of pregnancy. Peak of lactation
-3 End of dam's second trimester of pregnancy with growth nearing completion if dam is herself a heifer
-2.5 Dam's calf weaned
0 Heifer calf is born. Birth weight and calving ease recorded. Condition score of dam determines likely fertility at re-breeding
3 First 3 months of growth ended. Dam pregnant again
6 First 6 months of growth ended. Dam's lactation diminishing. Heifers 200 day weight taken
7.5 Weaning
9 Puberty. Oestrus cycles commence
12 Yearling. Oestrus cycles become more regular. First structural assessment. 400 day weight taken
15 Conception of 1st calf
18 End of first trimester of pregnancy. 600 day weight taken
21 End of second trimester. Growth nearing completion. Pelvic diameter and foetal size established
24 Lactation begins. Central incisor teeth lost and replaced - grazing ability affected. Rapid weight loss
27 Peak of lactation. Heifer pregnant again with 2nd calf. Growth complete
30 Lactating heavily. End of 1st trimester of 2nd calf in utero
33 Lactation diminishing. End of 2nd trimester of 2nd calf in utero
34.5 Calf weaned. Condition score increasing
36 2nd calf born, 2nd lactation begins

The critical first 45 months affecting heifer performance

Stud v's Commercial heifer programs
Are the principles of heifer management different for stud and commercial heifers? The answer is NO. Both enterprises require heifers to successfully calve unaided, preferably at 2 years of age, to be structurally sound, to continue to calve at a maximum of 365 day intervals and to pass desirable genes to the next generation. The only difference in management is for seedstock operations to maintain performance recording at the highest levels. Generation intervals for stud cattle must also be kept to a minimum (through flushing of young females and use of yearling bulls) to optimise genetic progress. In Australia this should basically be achieved off year round grazing with minimum supplementary feeding.

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