Lick Supplementation for Heifers

For most herds in South Africa one of the biggest challenges in successful cattle production is to achieve high calving percentages in first calvers and to maintain or improve on that in the second calving season. Since calving and weaning percentage, as well as kg calf produced per cow/heifer mated, have a significant impact on the profitability of cow/calf operations, these parameters must be closely monitored and improved where possible.

Heifers that are mated at two years of age normally reach a 70% calving percentage with relative ease, but struggle to maintain this performance through the second calving season. The reason for this is that these young mothers still need to grow and develop, while rearing a calf, and be in a condition to conceive and raise a fetus – a pretty tall order! Clearly, these animals have much higher nutritional requirements than mature animals that are not growing. Therefore, young animals require efficient nutrient supplementation to start reproducing successfully as early as possible.

In addition, the onset of puberty is linked to live body weight. A general rule of thumb is to start mating heifers once they reached 60 % of their expected mature body weight. Since farmers can not afford to carry passengers on their farms, the optimal way of reaching the set target weights in order to get the heifers reproducing as quickly as possible must be identified and applied.

The type and amount of supplementation provided depends on the quality of grazing or roughage available to the heifers. Beefbooster 18 is by far the best and most economical way to rear heifers, but should be supplemented to animals on good quality grazing. Supplemented at 1kg/heifer/day on either good quality summer veld or pastures, the animals should grow +/- 1kg/day, provided that they are parasite free. This growth creates a larger frame, without too much fat deposition, aiding the heifer in rapidly reaching the required mating weight without excessive fat deposition, which can have a negative effect on reproduction.

Although the best results with Beefbooster 18 are obtained on good quality grazing, good performances have also been observed on other roughages such as silages, crop residues and good quality hays.

After weaning (in May), there is one summer and two winter periods before mating in September/October. Supplement the heifers according to one of the two lick programs provided in Table 1. Since Beefbooster 18 is also an ideal product to use as a creep feed, weaner calves could be fed Beefbooster 18 @ 800 g/animal/day, or Bufferlick @ 1kg/animal/day, if grazing crop residues, to gain +/-100 – 120 kg in four months. If there are irrigated pastures, crop residues or higher quality grazing than dormant veld available during any winter period – do the same. If not, feed the heifers a production lick with a high natural protein content (Lambing lick) for the first winter at 800 g/heifer/day, preferably on the better available grazing.

During the second winter these animals can be fed the same or move to a higher protein supplement such as Skaap en Bees Lek @ 500 – 600g/animal/day. Condition and body weight will determine which route to go. There is obviously a cost to consider, but that needs to be weighed against an increase in calving percentage.

Feeding the Cow (mother of the heifer) and calf, Beefbooster 18 before weaning (during the summer months, can also increase the weaning weight of the heifer, and increase the rate of re-conception of the cow, after calving. Alternatively Summerphos P9 is a very good option.

Feeding of heifers after their first mating is also important. As indicated Summerphos P9 is a good option for the summer during/after mating. The important period then is the dry season, during which they should be fed a protein lick with a high natural protein content. The first choice would be Lambing Lick @ 1kg per day, as this also provides a high energy content, but a product such as Skaap en Bees Lek @ 500-600g/day should also do the trick, and could come in a bit cheaper.

The condition of the heifers at about the 1st August, before the second mating season, will dictate which route to go in terms of the feeding program. If their body condition score is 3 and higher no drastic actions are needed. If their condition score is lower than 3, a production lick (lambing lick) should be fed @ 1,2 – 1,5kg/day until mating. It is a good practice to feed a steam up ration 40 days before the start of the mating season, to help induce estrus. During this period either Lambing Lick or Supreme 20 should be fed @ 1kg/day.

After their second calving season, heifers are considered adult cows, grouped and fed accordingly. If however heifers are fed in this manner and do not conceive on both occasions, they should be culled, and not form part of the breeding herd.


Date published: 2007-07-15

Jurie Naude &
Joubert Nolt

Publication: N/A