While multiparous cows may be the main target of transition-management programs, first-calf heifers also are vulnerable to setbacks in the transition period, and should receive specialized care, says Michael Overton, veterinarian and senior consultant – Dairy Informatics with Elanco KnowledgeSolutions.

Heifers have specific transition needsOverton recommends providing the following specialized care to first-calf heifers:

  • Separate them from older cows in the close-up pen. Heifers have been shown to have longer resting times and higher dry-matter intake when separated from mature cows.
  • Feed more protein. Some researchers believe that heifers need higher levels of protein during the close-up period (>15 percent crude protein or 1,100 to 1,200 grams of metabolizable protein) compared to mature cows.
  • Consider skipping the DCAD. Feeding dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) diets is not medically necessary for heifers, because they are not as susceptible to clinical hypocalcemia and are less affected by subclinical hypocalcemia compared to mature cows. However, some herds report improved performance with DCAD diets for heifers.

Overton adds that recordkeeping and routine evaluation of those records is an important part of transition-cow care, so trends in performance and health can be identified and addressed ahead of major transition problems.