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Management of heifers and cows before calving

Guidelines for managing heifers and cows before calving

Careful management of nutrition of pregnant females in all trimesters of pregnancy pays dividends at calving time. Calf loss will be minimised and calving supervision can be kept to a minimum. Calving difficulties will be reduced by maintaining cows at condition score 3.0 (3.5 for heifers), and supplying adequate nutrition from joining to calving to prevent growth restrictions to reaching maximum pelvic size. This requires maintaining a condition score of 3.0–3.5 through to the point of calving.

Manage pre-calving carefully to minimise difficulties at calving

If females go outside these guidelines:

  • increase or decrease pasture available or pasture quality before calving to ensure condition score of cows or liveweight of weaner heifers remains within the guidelines. As a guide, manage British breed heifers to gain an average weight gain of 0.6kg/day to a joining liveweight of 300kg, condition score 3.0 at 15 months of age
  • consider supplementary feeding a high quality diet to cows when condition score is below the low 2s
  • consider supplementary feeding heifers, including a protein source rich in rumen non-degradable protein, particularly if pasture is readily available but quality is low. This ensures weaner heifers gain weight at 0.6kg/day to reach target weights at three, six and nine months post-conception, as defined in Tool 5.1
  • assess animal health status, particularly for internal parasites (worms and fluke tend to be a greater problem in younger animals), and correct if there is a problem, as described in Module 6: Herd health and welfare.  

Achieve a balance required between:

  • overfeeding (heifers in particular) in the last three months of pregnancy, as this will increase birth weight and subsequent dystocia
  • underfeeding in the last trimester of pregnancy, as this will predispose to metabolic disorders like ketosis. Restriction of nutrition in the last trimester can increase dystocia rates, slow uterine contractions at birth, and delay return to oestrus post-calving.

What to measure and when

  • Condition score of cows every two weeks from 12 weeks before calving
  • Weight and growth of heifers at three, six and nine months of pregnancy
  • Use MLA’s More Beef From Pastures Tool 3.5 of Module 3: Pasture utilisation as the basis for successfully matching seasonal pasture supply to the feed requirements of heifers

Source: MLA

For More information contact: Darren Hickey BetterBeef Networks Project Leader 

M: 0457 609 140 E:

Angus cows and calves in pasture