First Calf Heifer Care

When a veterinarian is called to pull a calf, the mother is often giving birth for the first time.

Rick Rasby is a beef specialist at the University of Nebraska. He says with proper nutrition and development, a heifer can be bred at 11-to-14-months-of-age, or 60% of her mature weight. A huge factor in calf mortality is the size of the baby the heifer is carrying, which is largely determined by the genetics of the bull.

"They're still trying to develop and grow, and so that reproductive canal isn't mature yet. So, then being able to handle a heavy calf, their makeup just isn't set up yet," says Rasby. " That's the reason why we really focus on first calf heifers, to breed them to light birth weight bulls."

Rasby says if an animal is going to have birthing difficulties, it's most often with the first baby, so it's very important to keep an eye on the heifer near the time of birth and have a facility ready.

The heifer will also be better off with good nutrition. The challenge is to provide an economical feeding program, and still maintain optimum health.

"Especially if you have a spring calving herd, that are going to calve in March or April, somewhere in there, really when you take a look at it a lot of vegetative grasses at least in the northern plains is basically decreasing in quality," he says. " So, some kind of range meadow re-growth at that time, or dormant native range with a minimal supplementation, or even corn stalks with supplementation would work out with developing replacement heifers."

Rasby says restricting feed just before calving to decrease the size of the newborn can make the heifer weak, and compromise her ability to become pregnant with her second calf.