A comparison of a totally mixed ration vs hand feeding for growing replacement heifer calves

V. L. Anderson
(Progress Report)

Growing replacement heifers from weaning to breeding is often a low tech operation on beef cattle operations with limited numbers of cows. Producers either run heifers with their cow herds and hope they grow in the competitive herd environment or feed them separately with associated increase in nutrition management. Keeping heifer calves and first calf heifers separate is recommended as nutrient requirements are higher than mature cows. Most commercial feeders use mixer wagons and deliver a totally mixed ration to fenceline feedbunks. However, increased animal performance and/or feed savings must be realized to justify a feed wagon. The alternative is basically hand feeding, with associated inaccuracies in quantifying feedstuffs. This multi-year study was designed to evaluate animal performance and feed efficiency for mixer wagon feeding vs hand feeding growing replacement heifer calves.

Experimental Procedure
After a postweaning preconditioning period, 56 spring born Red Angus X Limousin crossbred heifer calves were randomly assigned to one of two pens for a 96 day winter feeding study. The treatments were a totally mixed ration (TMR) or a hand fed ration (HFR) with free choice hay. Ration ingredients were alfalfa hay, corn silage, screenings and an ionophore supplement. Heifers were fed the TMR in fenceline bunks once daily. The HFR was offered as corn silage in the feedbunk, top dressed with ground screenings and the ionophore supplement. Long stemmed alfalfa hay was offered in a big round bale feeder free choice. Heifers were weighed every 28 days and feed intake was recorded daily except for the free choice alfalfa hay bale which was weighed when placed in the pen.

Results and Discussion
The average ration fed for each pen during the entire study is reported in Table 1. Heifer gains, dry matter intake and gain per unit feed is reported in Table 2. Average dry matter intake appears to be similar at 16.22 pounds and 16.07 pounds respectively for the TMR and HFR treatments respectively. Gains averaged 1.56 and 1.41 pounds per day. Gain per unit feed was .096 and .088 respectively.
It appears during the first year that there was little difference in the overall performance. Period 1 gains tended to favor the TMR which may allow adaptation to a new diet more rapidly. Period 4 gains appeared to be depressed for the HFR. There was a substantial amount of sever weather with bitter cold during this time suggesting a totally mixed ration may keep calves gaining better during stress.

This study requires additional replications for confident answers however at this point, hand fed heifers are equal to those fed with feed wagon. Precise weighing of ingredients, careful top dressing, adequate bunk space, and timely hay bale feeding all contribute to gains for hand fed heifers. Generally, the advantages of TMR feeding include little or no waste, homogenous feed mixture, observation of calves as they come to eat, and precise control of nutrients in the ration. Utilizing a feed wagon for other enterprises such as supplementation of the cow herd or feeding high energy diets to feedlot steers may provide the added incentive to own a trailer model.

Table 1. Average feed intake for heifer calves fed a totally mixed ration vs hand fed ration.
                   Totally Mixed              Hand
                       Ration                  Fed
                      pounds as fed per head per day  
Mineral                  .15                    .17     
Ionophore Supplement     .34                    .34
Screenings              4.10                   4.11
Alfalfa/Grass Hay       7.50                   7.38
Corn Silage            15.07                  15.07

Total intake           27.16                  27.07

Table 2. Performance of heifer calves fed a totally mixed vs hand fed ration.
                            Totally Mixed   Hand Fed
                               Ration        Ration
Number of head                  28            28

Period 1 ADG, lb                 1.37          1.12    
Period 2 ADG, lb                 1.41          1.58
Period 3 ADG, lb                 1.97          2.08
Period 4 ADG, lb                 1.49           .88
Overall ADG, lb                  1.56          1.41

AVG. Dry Matter Intake, lb.     16.22         16.07
Avg. Gain/Unit Feed               .096          .088

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