When you are facing shortage in forage, it may be a good idea to consider limit feeding heifers. This would require feeding a higher energy diet but limiting total amount of feed, controlling the average daily gain.
There has been studies comparing heifers that are fed a higher concentration diet but limiting total amount of feed versus the more traditional approach of free choice feeding forages and supplementing with a limited amount of concentrate.
At the start, the heifers may complain as they are trying to adjust. However, once adjusted, growth performance in respect to weight gains and structural growth are not affected.
Advantages of limit-feeding program include:
Lower feed cost, thus higher feed efficiency
Less manure produced
There is more opportunity to include byproducts as well as lower quality feedstuffs
Wider selection of feedstuffs based on cost, availability and nutrient composition
Corn and soybean meal are the most common source of protein and energy
Some basic guidelines when considering feeding dairy heifers:
It is important to balance the rations to meet the NRC requirements for the heifers
Feeding the heifers the same time every day is crucial
Control the size variation of the heifers in the group (limit it to 90kg)
Recommended feedbunk space per heifer is 14 - 24 inches from 4 months old to pre-calving
Avoid using straws or shavings for bedding
When transitioning to limit feeding, do it gradually
Stop limit feeding and adapt heifers to pre-fresh ration 30 - 45 days before calving