Three approaches to managing first- and second-calvers

Their methods differ, but these three ranchers are all focused on maintaining body conditioning

Three approaches to managing first- and second-calvers
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Because they graze year round at Deseret Ranches near Raymond, Darren Bevans manages first- and second-calvers separately from the cow herd on winter swath grazing.

“Managing these groups separately allows us to provide a little bit of extra nutrition, which can make all the difference to body condition and future pregnancy rates,” said Bevans. “Really these bred heifers are treated much like the mature cow herd, except that they will be supplemented with some quality alfalfa hay or pelleted supplement when conditions require it.”

In winter, Deseret bred heifers are managed in a large herd of more than 1,000 head, with limited access to swaths using electric fence. Heifers have access to between five and seven days’ worth of swathed feed at a time.

“Of course on the first day or two, they are eating the best part of the swaths and then as the days go on they are getting down to the less preferred material,” said Bevans. “So if they are on this area for seven days, for example, on about day five we give them some alfalfa hay as a supplement.

“Depending on weather and temperature conditions we can adjust the amount of supplemental feed provided.”

Visual body condition scoring is done weekly — Bevans aims for a five on the nine-point U.S. system (roughly equivalent to a score of three on the five-point Canadian system). If it looks like any group is starting to slip, extra nutrition is provided.

On Tyler Fulton’s Manitoba ranch, the Beef Booster/cross herd stays out all winter — on pasture until late November, then oat and barley swaths for a few weeks, and finally on corn grazing for about three months.

However, replacements and some of the first-calf heifers will be moved into a 20-acre paddock with shelter and portable feed bunks and put on feed. Steer calves are moved into a background program.

“I probably baby the heifers a bit, but I’m not sure how well they will compete with the mature cows in corn grazing,” said Fulton, who applies a visual condition scoring to the herd, aiming to maintain everything at the 2.5 to 3.0 condition score over winter.

“Since first-calf heifers are still growing as well we do a sort with them at weaning. Anything that is a bit smaller or could use more condition goes with the replacement heifers into the winter paddock, while the others will stay with the cows. If we have 80 to 90 replacement heifers, for example, we may be feeding 110 head in the paddock over winter — the rest being the first-calf heifers.”

On his southwest Ontario farm, Murray Shaw keeps his herd in a well-bedded yard with shelter during winter. They are put on a full feed Total Mixed Ration for the winter. He did use round bale feeders for a number of years, but found it wasn’t very efficient and the heifers had a hard time competing with mature “boss” cows.

For the past nine years he’s been feeding the TMR of hay and corn silage at a feed bunk.

“They all have plenty of space and easy access to the ration,” said Shaw, who monitors body conditioning year round.

Resources for winter feeding of heifers

Alberta Agriculture has a Frequently Asked Questions fact sheet on adjusting feeding during cold weather on its website. For more information on condition scoring, including a video on how to do the hands- on assessment as well as profit and feed cost calculators, go to

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