Nutrition focus at young age pays off
On all farms, youngstock are the future of the enterprise. They represent the current peak of genetic gains made through selective breeding, and in their DNA, is the improved productivity traits that are sought in the main herd or flock.
The lifetime productivity of an animal is influenced by the nutrition given when they are young. Colostrum, for example, is vital to getting the young animal off to a good start, but how we feed that youngster as it grows also has an impact on productivity for its entire adult life. Feeding young animals with excellent nutrition is an investment in future productivity, one that will provide large returns and is therefore worth our attention.
Young animals need a consistent supply of energy, protein and fibre in the right balance to grow optimally. Protein is particularly important for youngstock to develop their skeletal frame size. Over summer, pasture quality declines and protein may fall below requirements for optimal growth. Failure to provide enough protein to a growing animal pre-puberty can stunt growth, and this is something that cannot be corrected by improved feeding post-puberty.
Poor quality pasture can also limit total dry matter intakes due to being high in fibre. Youngstock may not be able to eat enough feed to meet their energy requirements, even when sufficient feed is on offer. Having a plan for transitioning to a balanced diet for winter is also a must.
Why does this matter? To achieve good reproduction in heifers, the target is to reach 60 percent of mature liveweight by mating.1 For an expected mature body weight of 500 kg, this requires an average daily gain of approximately 700 grams per day from birth. Another benefit of well grown female youngstock on a balanced diet is a larger skeletal frame, making giving birth easier as the pelvis is bigger.
An easier birth allows an animal to recover more quickly, regain her appetite easier, and puts her at reduced risk for disease. She will likely produce more milk for the vat or for her offspring. She may cycle earlier and be ready to conceive again sooner than animals that had a more difficult time giving birth. All of this means reduced costs and labour, improved productivity and animal welfare on-farm.
An additional benefit to better grown young animals is they can compete with older animals once they enter the herd or flock. This allows them greater access to feed and water than if they are bullied by older animals, thus contributing to improved productivity.
Don’t underestimate the value in consistently providing youngstock with excellent nutrition as they grow. Well-grown youngstock given nutrition with the right balance of energy, protein and fibre, along with plenty of fresh clean water, produces animals with better reproduction and production ability and goes a long way to preventing or reducing disease and economic loss throughout their lives.
Contact your local PGG Wrightson Technical Field Representative to discuss your animal nutrition needs.