Raising replacement heifers has been studied a lot. As times and cattle have changed, so have some of the systems used to develop replacement heifers. A better focus on low cost development and selection for fertility and longevity makes economic sense. Traditional development programs recommend breeding heifers at 60-65% of their mature body weight as most heifers should have reached puberty by the time they reach this weight. More recently it’s been well documented that conception rates of 85% or greater can be achieved with heifers being bred at 50-60% of their mature weight. Perhaps heifers are reaching puberty earlier or at a lower percent of their mature weight today due to improved genetics, and larger mature cow size vs 20 years ago.
Nutrition and rate of gain at breeding is likely more valuable than pushing for better gains prior to breeding. This allows for some basic or modest nutrition programs for wintering heifers that will be bred next spring or summer. Overall, it’s wise not to push heifers too hard or get them too fat. It’s not necessary, it is costly and you will have a poorer set of heifers in the long run or young cows that fail to rebreed. Gain performance of replacement heifers through fall and winter need not be too worrisome. Most gain recommendations are relatively modest at 1 to 1.5 lbs. per day. If mature cow size is 1300 lbs. on average, your replacement heifer is only going to be in the 700 lb. range at breeding and she probably weaned close to 550 lbs. or more. Some compensatory gain during the breeding season is a good thing and should occur on good pasture.
Some publications I read mention feeding commodities to heifers that are being backgrounded on crop residues or other low quality forages. Protein supplementation is warranted in these situations to best utilize forage and feeding co-products like dried distillers grains (DDGS) often look attractive, especially when evaluating cost per pound of nutrient. DDGS are a good source of protein, energy and phosphorous. However, even with a relatively low cost of $135 a ton, a CRYSTALYX® program can be more economical than many commodity programs and get the performance desired.
The CRYSTALYX® product, IONO-LYX® B300 is a 28% protein supplement that includes vitamins, minerals, and Bovatec®. Bovatec® is an ionophore that improves feed efficiency, rate of gain, and has been shown to decrease the age of puberty in beef heifers. IONO-LYX® works well to supply the nutrients necessary for heifers in a fall and winter program, especially one utilizing lower quality forages.
The Math and Delivery Cost
Feeding 2 lbs. (not including shrink) of a commodity at $135/ton would cost $0.14 per head, or would it? What else needs to be done with that commodity after it’s bought? It has to be stored and then delivered to the animal. Delivery costs are the real killer in feeding commodities and are grossly underestimated. Don’t kid yourself; tractors, feeders, fuel, labor, pickups, shrink, and depreciation cost money. Commodities work great as feed ingredients and energy supplements in total mixed rations, but fed free choice on range is a hard sell for me.
The table below illustrates the real cost and was calculated using the Crystal Clear Economyx® program (see www.crystalyx.com). Delivery cost assumptions are fairly modest for 50 head of heifers being fed for 100 days. Labor is estimated at $12.00 per hour, tractor cost at $30 per hour for a ½ hr. of use, and shrink at 15%. One could make arguments in these costs as being too much or too little. For example, the tractor cost would be highly variable in my opinion depending on the tractor itself and the time spent feeding. Shrink can also be variable but The University of Nebraska has research indicating 16% shrink for wet distillers grains and 40% for dried being fed on the ground. Overall the table below shows the true costs of feeding the distillers at $0.58 per head per day. In addition, this figure has no mineral cost factored in. That would add at least another $.10 per day totaling nearly $0.70 per head per day.
The Cost of CRYSTALYX® Iono-lyx® based on $1200 per ton and 2/3 lb. per day of intake is approx. $0.42 per head per day. The CRYSTALYX® program is more economical and has very little delivery cost because it’s only placed every 2 weeks or so. In addition, CRYSTALYX® is providing fortification of trace minerals, vitamins, and Bovatec®; you don’t get this in a commodity.
Overall the CRYSTALYX® program performs, is a complete supplement, and can save time and money; about $0.10 per heifer per day in this example. Even if we didn’t factor shrink and delivery cost for the DDGS and added in mineral costs, the two programs would be nearly identical in cost. So what value do you put on your time and equipment and what’s easier for you?
Most commodities are excellent ingredients; they are just expensive to feed, especially to smaller groups like we normally see in replacement heifer systems. Put CRYSTALYX® IONO-LYX® B300 to work for you in your low cost heifer development program. It works!
 Cost of CRYSTALYX®IONO-LYX® B300 will vary from region to region and typical consumption with heifers can range from less than ½ lb. to just over ¾ lb. per head per day.