Limit-Feeding Dairy Heifers

On-farm antibiotic discussions with your veterinarian should revolve around how much antibiotic use is needed, and how much is force of habit, says Kansas State Veterinarian Mike Apley.

The concept of limit-feeding or precision feeding dairy heifers has been studied for the last decade primarily at Penn state and the University of Wisconsin.  The goal of this research was to decrease costs while providing for adequate growth and performance after the heifer calves.

A few concepts regarding limit feeding and raising heifers are:

  1. Heifers are either the first or second largest cost on the dairy.
  2. Feed is the largest cost in raising heifers.
  3. Labor would be the second greatest cost in heifer raising.

An idea taken from the beef and other meat industries is the concept of feed efficiency.  In other words, how much feed per unit gain.  But differing from the meat industry is that we target growth at 1.8 to 2 pounds of gain per day over the post-weaned phase.   Precision feeding allows the farmer to precisely balance the heifer’s diet with little wasted feed and a reduction in cost.  There are no novel or different feed ingredients needed to make this work.  However, there are some hard and fast methods that must be adhered to, to make this work on your farm.

How do you do this?

Birth to weaning- no changes from what is presently done on the farm.

Penn State recommends the following regarding nutrition and management.


General: No free choice forages or concentrates are fed.  The diet must be followed specifically (Precision Feeding)

Dry matter intake (on a dry matter basis):

  • Pre-puberty 2.15% body weight/day
  • Post-puberty 1.65% body weight/ day

Crude protein:

  • Pre-puberty 14-15%
  • Post-puberty 13-14%

No RUP sources are needed here, this can be done with conventional ingredients.


The requirements are based on heifer size, growth rate, and environment the heifer is raised in.

Limit-feeding diets have a fixed energy requirement that meets an average daily gain of 1.75 to 2.0 pounds per day.  This is equivalent to 130 kcal of metabolizable energy per pound of metabolic body weight (BW0.75).  Work with your nutritionist or contact a UNH dairy specialist to help you with this if needed.


Based on the fact that the heifers are limit fed, using poor quality forage (heifer hay) probably will not work here.  Data suggests that NDF values as low as 19% can work in this situation, but typical NDF values range from 23 to 31% over the growth period.

Vitamins and minerals  

There are no data indicating any changes required while limit feeding heifers

Concentrate sources

In this diet, a higher portion of the diet will be made of concentrate allowing the producer more flexibility in meeting nutrient requirements.  It is important to meet the minimum NDF values, most of this will be from forage and help prevent any laminitis from happening.  It is also suggested to limit the amount of alfalfa hay as this combination of a higher grain and alfalfa can result in frothy bloat.


  1. Heifers must be weighed often to ensure that heifers are gaining within the target gains of 1.75 to 2.0 pounds/day.  For ease of weighing, anytime a heifer is handled, she should be weighed either via electronic scale or taped.  Recent data indicates that dairy heifer weigh tapes are accurate.  It is recommended that heifers be weighed monthly at the same time of day.  These results will allow you to adjust the diets as the heifers grow.
  2.   Make sure all heifers can eat at the same time, no overcrowding because heifers will consume all their feed within an hour, headlocks work best to allow the heifers to eat without competing with a boss heifer.  ALL heifers have to eat at one time.
  3. Feed only once a day at the same time.
  4. Grouping heifers should have a range of body weights less than 200 pounds within a pen after 4 months of age (2-4 month age variation at the most within a pen).
  5. No straw or shavings as bedding- they will eat it.
  6. Expect a lot of vocalization at the start, they will settle down eventually.
  7. When heifers are approaching freshening (two months prior to calving), you can add them to the high forage dry cow pen.  Their rumens will adjust.

Experience at UNH

We have been limit feeding post-weaned heifers for a few years now.  What we see is adequate growth, no feed wastage, and no negative effects on performance or breeding.  Routinely, our age at first calving is 22 months.  If you are interested in limit feeding don’t hesitate to contact me or work with your nutritionist.  You should see adequate growth, lower feed costs and lower labor costs.

Corn Silage Maturing Fast

Corn plants can lose more than two points of moisture on hot, windy days. ( Farm Journal, Inc. )

With plenty of moisture and lots of sunshine in much of the upper Midwest, corn silage is rapidly maturing.

Now is the time to aggressively monitor crop maturity and plant dry matter, says John Goeser, animal nutrition, research and innovation director for Rock River Laboratory in Watertown, Wis. Although ideal dry matter will vary with silage storage type, the general guideline is to shoot for 35% dry matter (65% moisture.

“The opportunity for failure, or for challenges to arise, is far greater when we aim for dryer and more mature thresholds,” says Goeser. “[Corn silage] will be harder to pack at those dryer levels. If we experience a dry spell with 80° F days and wind for a week, corn can go from drying out a point a day to losing several points of dry matter per day.”

That can lead to a “fluffier” crop with kernels harder to process, he says. “Realizing that chopping can take some time, it’s best to begin harvest just before you reach the dry-matter target,” he says. “Continue chopping beyond the target and realize an average dry matter this is right around the ideal level.”

Goeser also recommends:

Consider high cutting. “Many areas experienced plenty of heat and moisture early in the growing season this year, so I’m forecasting fiber digestibility and stover characteristics to be more ‘woody’ this years,” says Goeser. “These characteristics can be varied with cutting height.”

He recommends a simple on-farm experiment when kernels reach the half-milk line. Cut three or four stalks at normal height, another set of stalks at 12 to 14” and a third set at 18 to 20”. Chop these stalks and then submit the samples for neutral detergent fiber digestibility analysis. The results should tell you which cutting height will provide optimal feed.

Utilize kernel processing scores (KPS) throughout harvest. “It’s one thing to have your equipment ready for the season, but changes happen in equipment and crop status which affects KPS,” he says. So monitor KPS daily or every couple of days.

“Understand that the KPS benchmark is lower for unfermented, fresh chop whole plant corn relative to what it will be six months into fermentation,” he says. The fresh chopped corn KPS goal is 60 to 65, while fermented corn silage should be 75 or better, he says.

Use free app to monitor crop conditions in your area. Rock River Lab is providing a free, crowd-sourced phone app called InField Updates that reports dry matter, NDF and starch statistics on a map. This data can be used to track crop progress in your area. Download the FeedScan app and click on “InField Updates” to try out this tool.

Hilarious Facebook Video Exposes Nut Milking; Opens Labeling Dialogue

A viral comedy video exposes “nut milking” and seeks to start a conversation with consumers about labeling plant-based beverages that are often called “milk.”
( Know Ideas Media )

“Milking a 600 kg Holstein, now that’s easy. Milking a 1 gram almond, that’s hard.” That statement might raise some eyebrows for dairy farmers, but if they watch a parody video put out by Know Ideas Media they’re certain to get a laugh.

The video made its debut on Aug. 3 by the Facebook page seeking “to bring pragmatism back to topics that are too far divided to allow for mutual understanding. GMO and Organic for example, are not mutually exclusive.”

In the video a “third generation nut milker” tends to his herd of almonds nut that he milks. Little known fact female almonds produce milk, while the male almonds are the ones you might find in trail mix.

According to the tongue in cheek video almonds have tiny little udders so they are difficult to milk.

“There’s so much confusion with city folks these days. They’re talking about ‘Nuts don’t lactate. Nuts don’t have nipple.’ I’ll show you a nut nipple,” says the nut milker.

The video goes on to poke fun at almond milk showing how the nuts are milked and what it takes to get nut milk to the grocery store.

At the end of the three minute comedy video it ends by talking about the debate on what to label nut based beverages.

“There is a debate in the dairy industry: If nuts don’t lactate why is their juice called milk?” the video asks.

“Definition matter in the world of food. What defines milk for you?” the video ends.

Viewers are asked to continue the conversation below in the comments.

In roughly 24 hour the video shared by the Facebook page Know Ideas Media has been viewed more than 200,000 times, shared at least 5,600 times and commented on by nearly 800 people. The video is also available on YouTube has has been watched more than 16,000 times, thus far.

The video comes out at a time when the debate about properly labeling plant-based beverages like almond and soy milk is being had at the federal level of government. The Food and Drug Administration has said it will look into enforcing milk labeling through the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

This past year states like Missouri and North Carolina have taken steps to address labeling of plant-based products that market themselves as meat or dairy. France has even enacted legislation that limits labeling of dairy and meat products to foods or beverages originating from animals.

Another comedy video came out earlier in the year helping dispel misleading labeling like non-GMO and natural products. That video was sponsored by the National Milk Producers Federation through the Peel Back the Label campaign and ran on the popular comedy site Funny or Die.

Amendment Banning Dairy Label Enforcement Fails; Processor Aid Passes

Dairy group believes the FDA should not follow the requests of a vegan advocacy group to label plant-based products as “milk.”

Legislation that would have changed how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates non-dairy “milk” failed to make its way into a Senate bill, while another amendment aimed at sparking innovation in dairy processing passed.

An amendment proposed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and co-sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) had the stated purpose of prohibiting “the use of funds to enforce standards of identity with respect to certain food.” The amendment was part of the “minibus” spending bill that the Senate is working on. It failed by a vote of 14-84 with two Senators not voting.

The Lee amendment would have overturned a recent decision by FDA regarding dairy labeling where the agency was looking at enforcing standards for labeling products as milk that come exclusively from animals.

National Milk Producer’s Federation (NMPF) was satisfied with the vote by the Senate to allow FDA to continue pursing enforcement on food labeling.

“We are very pleased with the Senate’s overwhelming rejection of Sen. Lee’s blatant attempt to interfere with the ability of the Food and Drug Administration to enforce standards of identity for dairy products and other foods.  We fought this amendment because it would have undermined the decades-long policy, established by Congress, that the FDA should regulate food names in order to promote honesty and fair dealing in the interest of consumers,” says NMPF president and CEO Jim Mulhern.

NMPF and Mulhern also thanked Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Jim Risch (R-Idaho) for leading a bipartisan effort to defeat the amendment.

Senator Baldwin led another piece of legislation that made its way into the appropriations bill that would provide aid to dairy processors and on-farm creameries. The Dairy Business Innovation Act passed by a vote of 83-15 with two Senators not voting. The goal of the bill is “to appropriate funds to carry out programs relating to the innovation, process improvement, and marketing of dairy products.”

Under the amendment proposed by Baldwin and cosponsored by Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), there is $7 million of funding granted to assist cheesemakers and other dairy businesses in developing new products and expanding markets.

Baldwin says dairy is important to her state’s economy and that dairy farmers have been struggling with low milk prices and limited processing.

“I’m proud to have secured this funding to create new initiatives and expand resources for our dairy businesses to foster innovation, improve their manufacturing practices and reach new markets so Wisconsin’s dairy industry can continue to lead the nation,” says Baldwin.

The Dairy Business Innovation Act was originally introduced in June and had support from a number of dairy organizations and processors.

The recent amendment passing had the backing of both NMPF and FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative thanked Senator Baldwin for her efforts to help dairy.

“Cheesemakers and dairy product manufacturers are incredibly talented in making high-quality dairy products that consumers have come to love,” says Jeff Lyon, General Manager of FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative. “When faced with challenges, it is important to think outside the box. This legislation allows the dairy industry to do just that – by being creative in the development of new dairy products, expanding production capacity and developing new markets. We believe these are key steps that will help support the milk price in the near future, as well as the long term.”

The minibus appropriations bill passed with a vote of 92-6 on August 1. There is still a House version that needs to move from the floor before Congress goes to conference. President Trump has also threatened to force a shutdown by not signing the bill if no funding for a border wall is added.