Dairy animals spend over half their lives on most farms as a calf or heifer, making their feed efficiency critical, according to Jud Heinrichs, Professor of Dairy Science at Penn State University. 

Heinrichs says the concept of “precision feeding” of heifers began to evolve in about the year 2000.  The goal of precision feeding is to maximize feed efficiency to grow heifers at desired rates while minimizing nutrient waste.  Central to the concept is the fact that no additional free-choice forages are fed, and the balanced diet is likely fed as a TMR or mixture of forage and grain, fed once daily.

Heinrichs’ advice on other key concepts of precision feeding heifers includes:

  1. Balance rations according to industry research on precision feeding – This includes protein, energy, fiber and vitamins and minerals.  Heinrichs’ specific nutrient recommendations can be found here.
  2. Monitor heifer weights – This practice is a must for successful precision feeding. Any time a heifer is handled, she should be weighed – ideally, once per month.
  3. Group heifers by size – Beyond 4 months of age, heifers should be housed in groups with less than 200 pounds of weight variation within the group. Post breeding, the weight spread can be increased to 300 pounds.
  4. Provide adequate bunk space – Heifers will need 14 to 24 inches of feed bunk space per head as they progress from 4 months of age to pre-calving at 22 months of age. Because precision-fed heifers will not have access to feed at all times of day, it is important that every animal has adequate bunk space so that all heifers can eat at the time of feed delivery.

Source:  Proceedings of the 2013 Four State Dairy Nutrition and Management Conference.