Dry Cow and Heifer Feeding Program for the University of Manitoba Dairy Herd

The feeding programs for dry cows and heifers seldom receive the amount of attention given to rations for the milking herd. Yet anyone who has had problems with milk fever, displaced abomasums and other metabolic diseases as well as poor heifer production, knows how important proper feeding of these animals is. Our last article on the University of Manitoba Glenlea dairy herd looks at the feeding of these very important animals.

Dry Cows

A special point is made to harvest grassy hay for the dry cows. The lower calcium and potassium levels help to prevent milk fever. In addition to grassy hay free choice, dry cows also receive 1 kg/day of a barley, mineral/vitamin grain mix. The grain mix contains 500 IU vitamin E. The objective is to dry cows off at a body condition score of 3.5. Cows needing extra body condition receive extra grain during late lactation.

Occasionally, dry cows will receive a little extra barley if for some reason, they could not regain condition prior to drying off. According to Dr. Ray Ingalls, cows are dry for "too many days". They "have some problems" meeting the objective of 60 days dry. Two weeks prior to calving, the milking TMR is introduced so that at calving cows are receiving 4 kg of the 16% grain mix as outlined last month.

Calves and Heifers

Calves stay with the cow for 12-24 hours and receives colostrum directly from the cow. If calves remain with the cow for longer it becomes more difficult to teach the calves to drink out of a pail.

Calves are housed in individual pens and receive 2 kg milk twice daily until 28-35 days of age and then 2 kg daily for one week. Water and a 16% dairy ration free choice from birth. Dr. Ingalls comments that the 16% ration is "probably too good for them". Prior to April, 1993, the U of M mixed their own feed and calves were fed a 15% starter diet for 7 weeks and a 14% grower diet for 3-5 weeks. These diets contained barley with small amounts of canola meal, dried distillers grains, dehy alfalfa, urea and minerals and vitamins. It is now more convenient to feed the calves the same ration purchased for the milking herd.

Hay is not offered until 10-12 weeks of age when heifers are moved into group pens. This helps promote good intake of the grain mix.

In the group pens, heifer calves receive long hay free choice and 2 kg of a 14% grain mix. Calves are measured and weighed every 2 months and the diet adjusted accordingly to obtain the desired rate of gain of 0.8 kg/day. The objective is to breed heifers at 14 - 14.5 months of age weighing 350 kg. From breeding to calving, heifers are fed to maintain the gain of 0.8 kg/day. Two weeks prior to calving, heifers start receiving the milking cow TMR.

After calving, heifers are fed as the mature cows with an additional allowance for growth. Heifers milking over 35 kg receive the 40 kg TMR while heifers milking over 28 kg receive the 32 kg TMR. It is a stanchion barn and each animal is fed individually eliminating the need to group heifers and feed them away from the mature cows.

For further information contact:

Karen Dupchak
Farm Production Extension, Animal Nutritionist
Manitoba Agriculture Food, and Rural Initiatives
204-545 University Crescent
Winnipeg, MB R3T 5S6
Phone: 204-945-7668
Fax: 204-945-4327