A guide to feeding dairy youngstock through the winter

As fallen leaves decay and the temperature drops, you’ll know that farming livestock becomes more labour intensive. Before winter hits it pays to plan ahead to take special care of your youngstock’s feeding regime. Looking after your heifers is the key to the future of your business. And, much like your adult cows, youngstock benefit from a smooth transition to winter feeding.

Here’s a quick guide

Winter housing

Your animals are coming inside for the winter period.  That means fresh grazing is no longer an option for most herds. Like most other living creatures, cattle don’t like sudden changes to their eating and dietary regimes. To keep youngstock happy, a gradual transition to the winter feeding plan is the best policy.

From birth, right through to calving, achieving target growth rates is crucial in order to achieve an average age at first calving of 2 years.  This has been demonstrated to be the most efficient and profitable age to calve your heifers for the first time. That’s why it’s so important to select the right forages. Nutrient content needs to be analysed to determine the correct type and quantity of additional feed required for the winter.  This is imperative to ensure your heifers continue to achieve target growth rates and achieve the necessary milestones to enable them to calve into the herd on time.


Being accurate with your rations is the secret to a good winter feeding program. Growth targets must be set for each individual farm.  In this example, heifers of seven months’ age, weighing approximately 200kg, are aiming for a target average daily growth rate of around 0.8kg per day. The following table shows two different grass silages and the amount and protein content of additional concentrate feed which would be required for each forage.  Clearly, knowing what forages will be fed to youngstock over the winter is imperative, before deciding on an appropriate concentrate to feed alongside it. 

A guide to feeding dairy youngstock through the winter 1


Is your feeding regime working?  The only way to check, is to measure and monitor growth. Youngstock require constant re-evaluation. That’s where your scales come in.  Regular monitoring allows you to intervene when things don’t go to plan, before it’s too late.

You should aim for your heifers to reach 90% of mature cow bodyweight at first calving.  It’s achievable. But to stay on target for that weight, they’ll need to be around 50% of mature cow bodyweight by 12 months of age. The chart below gives an indication of daily growth rates required from birth to maturity.  Mature cow bodyweight is different for each individual herd and is your starting point for calculating targets for your heifers.

Regular weight checks are required, so ensure you put in place a good handling and weighing system to minimise stress and disruption, and make the job easier!

A guide to feeding dairy youngstock through the winter 2


The old adage has stood the test of time for a reason. Plan the nutrient content of your youngstock’s winter feed with your nutritionist to ensure you keep growth rates on track through the winter months.

Planning ahead and constantly reviewing ensures a happy and healthy winter for you and your animals!


>> A guide to feeding adult dairy cows through winter

For further information, please see the product SPC, or contact your veterinary surgeon, SQP or Zoetis UK Ltd, Walton Oaks, Dorking Road, Walton on the Hill, Tadworth, Surrey, KT20 7NS. Customer Support 0845 3008034. http://www.zoetis.co.uk/. Always seek the advice of your medicines provider. Use medicines responsibly (www.noah.co.uk/responsible).