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Leading the Way: How to super-charge your show heifer’s growth

Katie Coyne for Progressive Dairyman Published on 08 April 2019
Reyncrest Farm in Corfu, New York, knows a thing or two about growing champion show heifers

Have you ever been to a show and noticed those heifers that are in perfect shape? They are sharp and dairy, with no extra weight on them, yet they are not too thin.

They possess a beautiful sweeping rib, and their hair coat is exceptional. They stand out in the ring, and you stand wondering how the owner achieved this “look.”

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The truth is, well-grown, well-balanced show heifers don’t happen overnight; it happens with a goal, a plan, a program and consistency.

Remember the basics

We’ve talked about the basics several times in this column, but basics cannot be stressed enough when it comes to any aspect of showing. Heifer growth is more than just nutrition. It begins with setting up facilities to promote good health. Here is a list of practices that will help you get a good start on optimum growth for your heifer:

  • Keep the pen clean and dry at all times – this may mean your Saturday mornings are spent in the barn cleaning the pens.

  • Be consistent with feed amounts and time of day your animals are fed.

  • Clean the waterers and make sure there is always plenty of fresh water.

  • Make sure mangers or feed tubs are cleaned at least once a day.

  • Feed in small groups or even individually by catching and tying heifers up to eat. This also gives heifers a positive experience on the halter.

  • Make sure there is good ventilation in your heifer barn.

  • When heifers are content and happy, they will spend hours chewing their cud and focus their energy on growing.

Feeding a good show heifer concentrate and a protein top-dress

According to Tyler Reynolds of Reyncrest Farm in western New York, there are many show feeds out there, and each one is good in its own right. You need to find the one that works for you and stick with it. Here is a checklist for feeding a show-heifer concentrate and protein pellet:

  • Select a calf starter that provides rumen development, maintains a good balance of minerals and vitamins, and has adequate protein. Reynolds recommends a 20 percent protein starter.

  • Be consistent – we always encourage weighing the feed at each feeding so we know for sure no matter who is doing the job, the heifers are getting the same amount each time. Though less accurate, you may also measure by using a feed scoop. However, when eyeballing the amount, understand it may not be the same at each feeding.

  • Depending on the age of your heifer and when they need to be ready to show, begin feeding a 40 percent protein pellet with the concentrate. Reynolds recommends leaving calves on the concentrate and feeding the protein rather than just feeding protein. He finds heifers go backward when they pull the concentrate.

  • If your heifer is gaining unwanted weight, then it is time to cut back on concentrate. Again, do this gradually and consistently.

  • If you are preparing a spring calf for an early summer show, she will need to get going on this ration as soon after weaning as possible so she gets rid of her “baby fat.” With fall calves, you have more time to introduce the protein pellet and monitor growth and weight gain. Age and time of show are important factors in transitioning this ration.

  • Don’t be afraid to leave a good one home from a smaller show so she is ready for a bigger, more important show later in the year. Many nomination heifers don’t show until later in the show season so they have time to develop to their full potential.

Feeding forages for depth of rib

Nothing adds to the general appearance of an animal like a deep, open, sweeping rib. It’s hard for a judge to miss a heifer that is balanced and possessing that “just right” middle. How is this achieved by the exhibitors at the top of the class?

  • Start with long-stem, palatable hay.

  • It doesn’t need to be nutrient-rich, but it should be free from dust and mold so heifers will eat it and eat a lot of it.

  • Alfalfa is not the hay of choice for developing rib.

  • Timothy hay is an excellent choice, but any grass hay is acceptable as long as it is not too soft.

  • It is important to ask your nutritionist to test your hay, as sometimes looks can be deceiving. If you find your heifers are gaining weight for no reason, check the protein content of your hay.

  • If you find your show heifer a little overweight, mixing clean straw with your hay will reduce calorie intake while maintaining her depth and appetite. She may not eat this at first, but be patient – when she gets hungry enough, she’ll eat it.

  • While the goal is to achieve a heifer with a beautiful rib, don’t overdo it. We’ve all seen heifers with a “hay belly” from eating too much of the wrong kind of hay. In addition to the undesirable appearance, too much depth can cause the crops to break apart and make your heifer appear weak in the front end.

What about pasture?

While turning heifers out each day for exercise is vital, it is important to keep grass pastures mowed short and limit the amount of time a heifer is allowed to eat grass each day. You would be amazed at how quickly a meticulous show diet can be altered with too much grass.

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Dirt pastures also offer an ideal exercise area with little chance to gain weight from grass intake. We recommend never turning heifers out during hot, sunny days. Always let them out at night so they don’t get sunburned and they can stay comfortable inside during the day.

A word on probiotics

An essential element to a great show diet is a probiotic. This helps with rumen development, enhances appetite, improves hair coat and more. There are several excellent probiotics on the market, and all are adequate. They come in powder, tubes or as a lick. While administering a tube is more labour-intensive, it is the best way to monitor individual intake.

Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion

Since you monitor your own heifers every day, ask a knowledgeable friend to stop in every few weeks and let you know how they look. It’s sometimes hard to notice subtle changes when you see heifers every day. Remember the basics, and the rest will fall into place.  end mark

PHOTO: With a list of World Dairy Expo winners and All-Americans to their name, Reyncrest Farm in Corfu, New York, knows a thing or two about growing champion show heifers. Pictured here are Tyler and Kelly Reynolds. Photo provided by Katie Coyne.

Katie Coyne
  • Katie Coyne

  • Owner
  • Mill Wheel Dairy Show Clinics
  • Email Katie Coyne

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