Heifer Management and Feeding Practices

Heifer is a female animal of cattle and buffaloes from one year of age up to first calving. Thus, heifers are future cows of the herd. On most dairy farms, 20-25 per cent of the cows are replaced every year with freshly calved heifers. Therefore,proper nutrition and management of heifers are necessary to provide adequate number of healthy and genetically superior herd replacements. Under Indian conditions the goal of dairy farmer should be raise well grown heifers that calve at an average age of about 30 months in case of crossbred cows, 36 months in indigenous cows and about 40 months in case of buffaloes.

The nutrition during this period shall mainly comprise ad libidum. feeding of good quality green fodders supplemented with some amount of concentrate mixture so as to obtain a daily growth rate of 500-550 gm in crossbred heifers and 450-500gm in heifers of indigenous cattle breeds and buffaloes. The heifers may be fed mostly on roughages and allowed to remain lean until pregnancy. During the last half of pregnancy, they can be fed at a higher plane of nutrition to achieve rapid growth which could cause maximum development of ducts and alveoli in the heifer’s udder.

The loose system of housing for heifers is generally followed through out the country except in heavy rainfall and coastal areas. For better growth, the heifers need to be protected from summer stress especially under North Indian conditions.Water sprinkling or splashing during hotter parts of the day twice or thrice daily,provision of ceiling fans in the sheds, provision of mist cooling devices and wallowing especially in buffalo heifers are some of the practices to be followed for the protection of heifers from heat stress. For protection from cold stress in winters,the heifers are offered a well balanced nutritious diet. In severe cold weather conditions, the allowance of concentrate mixture may be increased by 0.5 to 1.0kg per heifer daily so that their growth is not adversely affected. Provision of adequate bedding is essential during winter.

Heifers having stunted growth, late maturing, anatomical defects or bad disposition should be regularly culled from the herd. They need to be protected against ectoparasites such as ticks, lice, etc. by spraying with insecticides like 1 % malathion at monthly intervals. The floors, walls and roofs of the heifer sheds should also be sprayed to make them free from these ectoparasites. The heifers at the age of puberty should be observed for signs of heat every day and should be inseminated with the semen of superior bulls. Attainment of 60 per cent of mature body weight(about 300 kg) is the stage at which the heifers should be bred. The advance pregnant heifers should be trained for milking by taking them to the milking parlour along with the milking cows and allowed to go through the milking routine. This will give them an opportunity to get adapted to the milking routine. Such heifers will not get excited and thus will not give any difficulty in milking after calving.

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