Temperatures closer to average and most of the snow disappearing remind many of us that the summer show season is just around the corner. In fact, some are already competing in spring shows. While this column is specific to raising and feeding show animals, several principles apply to all heifers.

Birth to 3 months old
    Raising a purple-ribbon show heifer starts at birth. Sound management tactics need to be implemented at day one to allow the animal to achieve its genetic potential. One gallon of high quality colostrum should be given as soon as possible after birth. The navel should be dipped with 7 percent tincture iodine. Maternity pens need to be clean and dry.
    High quality, all-milk protein milk replacer or pasteurized whole milk can both work well for future show calves. Accelerated programs work well to maximize growth during the first few months of age. A high-quality starter should be offered free choice up to 3 months of age. Clean, fresh water should be offered by day five to maximize starter digestion and intake. Typically, no hay is offered during this period.  

Heifers greater than 3 months old
    The goal in the post-weaning period and the months to follow is to continue building bone and lean muscle mass like a well-conditioned athlete. Grain needs should be monitored based on body condition and individual heifer metabolism. Top dress high-quality protein sources to help meet amino acid requirements. This can include soybean meal, canola meal, blood meal and a variety of bypass soybean-based products.
    In most cases, little or no silage will be fed to show heifers as it can limit rib development. Lots of hay is the key to this rib expression. The type of hay is as important as the ingredients in the grain mix. Hay must be clean and free of mold. Grass hay typically works best, although some mixtures with alfalfa may benefit younger heifers. Keep in mind, high-quality grass can be highly digestible and increase body condition.
    Feeding straw as a primary forage source can work for weight loss situations. It is very important to ensure proper mineral and vitamin fortification through this period. The best solution is to prevent the animal from getting too heavy by monitoring body condition and watching carbohydrate offerings and forage quality.

Show day feeding
    Filling an animal properly the day of the show is a learned art. Water is typically limited the morning until just before it’s time to enter the ring. Start with hay and offer different varieties. Beet pulp is commonly soaked and used for bloom. This is not a smorgasbord – offer everything in small amounts. Heifers can reach a point of too much fill, especially those that are conformationally weak across the topline.

Management considerations
    Keep all heifers clean and dry. Proper ventilation is critical throughout all stages of life. Fans to move air can yield better hair quality, but watch for drafts on younger animals. Exercise is critical for yearling heifers to develop lean muscle and accentuate dairyness, and it is also important for blood flow suppling nutrients to cells. Keep pen group sizes small with less competition. Keeping similar age heifers together will also help. Provide clean, available water at all times.
    Start clipping the long winter hair coats in March or April. This year’s cold spring made it difficult to start too early. Keep body hair short and work with topline hair often. Wash heifers frequently to improve hair quality and increase the animal’s comfort level. Soap should only be used a couple times per week. Make sure it is all washed out.

Enjoy the show
    No silver bullets will create the perfect show heifer. It takes sound management and a keen eye to customize the best feeding strategy for each heifer. While it takes some time and effort, it can yield a purple ribbon heifer.
    Barry Visser is a nutritionist for Vita Plus.