WATERTOWN - About 30 youth enrolled in 4-H or FFA dairy projects came to the Nickel farm in Watertown on May 6 to learn how to develop the heifers they will take to county or state fair or area dairy shows this year.
“The key part of show heifer care comes down to management,” says Nick Uglow, a Watertown nutritionist who has been involved with showing dairy cattle all his life.
Uglow talked about housing and nutrition considerations for show calves. To those youth who choose calves born on their family’s farm he said the growth of the animal begins in the maternity pen.
Good calf management begins with clean bedding and ventilation and quality colostrum followed by three months of good milk or milk replacer and then by fresh, free-choice 22-22 percent starter and clean, fresh water.
According to Uglow, calves should not be offered hay for the first eight weeks to encourage starter intake. If small amounts are offered earlier it should be grassy hay.
He also suggests separating stress events such as dehorning, vaccination and weaning and establishing a sound vaccination protocol with a veterinarian.
Once the calf is three months old the goal is to continue building bone and lean muscle.
“Treat them like an athlete,” he says.
“Besides good nutrition, the growing yearling heifers need exercise to develop lean muscle to accentuate their dairyness. It’s also important for blood flow and getting nutrients to the cells,” he suggests.
He points out that corn is usually a dirty word in feeding show heifers.
“Always monitor their body condition,” he says. “Offer high quality protein sources such as soybean meal, expeller soybean meal products, blood meal or canola meal.”
As for forages, he says silage limits rib development but good quality, grassy hay without mold is good. Some mixtures with alfalfa can work in younger heifers but watch maturity of the hay. Early maturity high quality hay can increase body condition.
To prevent an animal from getting too heavy while still ensuring proper mineral and vitamin fortification, he suggests straw. Start feeding palatable hay source one week prior to the show to develop the rib or body depth.
While the first months of care are a science, he says the art of show day feeding is developed with experience.
Show heifers should not be offered water the day of the show until prior to going into the ring. Start feeding hay and offer different varieties. Feed beet pulp (wet) for bloom or the new pelleted fill feeds. Offer everything in small mounts and watch weak-top animals for too much fill.
Uglow reminded the youth of the importance of consistency all the way through their development.
An important part of developing a good show calf is to begin with good genetics.
Dennis Gunst, an experienced showman and breeder with East Central Select Sires explained the basics of choosing the proper bulls for the cow or heifer to be bred. He stressed the importance of mixing cow families to avoid inbreeding and about how to read the information provided in the breed directories.
When a heifer is about to go into a show ring, the youth showing her take her through a beauty treatment that includes a variety of techniques.