Winter feeding considerations for in-calf beef heifers

Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Getting winter feeding right for in-calf beef heifers is crucial to future herd performance and profitability. In support of AHDB’s Maternal Matters campaign, Debby Brown, Veterinary Technical Manager at Dugdale Nutrition, explains more.

In-calf heifers have many demands as they continue to grow (at approximately 0.5 kg/day), as well as develop the calf, prepare for lactation and be ready to get back in calf for the following year.

Body condition

In-calf beef heifers ideally should have a body condition score 2.75–3 at calving, weigh 85% of mature cow bodyweight and should not change their body condition score by more than 0.5 over the winter-feeding period.

Getting the body condition score right for calving will reduce the risk of calving difficulties and will give the best chance for optimal colostrum quality and milk production. It will also reduce the interval to oestrus and therefore improve her ability to get back in calf for a 365-day calving interval.


Housing and management of in-calf beef heifers is as important as the feed itself. Feed space should be at least 750 mm per head to allow the group to all access feed easily together. These heifers can be housed in cubicles or loose housing, ensuring enough space. Ideally, stock cubicles at 90% occupancy and move to loose housing either two weeks before or at the point of calving. The loose housing area will be dependent on the weight of the heifers but allow approximately 3.5–4 m2 bedded area per head, with a total area of 5–6 m2 per head.

Feed requirement

For most of the winter the feed requirement will be for maintenance and the average 0.5 kg/head growth. Calculate the requirement as follows:

Maintenance = 5 + 0.1 x liveweight, Growth = 1.5 x Maintenance, Pregnancy = about 5 MJ

An average 500 kg heifer will have a requirement of approximately 88–90 MJ ME per day.

During mid-pregnancy the crude protein requirement of the diet is approximately 11% but this ideally should be increased to 14% in the last 3–4 weeks pre-calving.

500 kg in-calf beef heifers are likely to have a dry matter intake of approximately 10 kg.

Example diets

Need a heading here

Mid-pregnancy (kg)

option 1

Mid-pregnancy (kg)

option 2

Pre-calving (kg)

option 1

Pre-calving (kg)

option 2

Silage 35% DM, 10.5 MJ ME, 14% CP





Straw 85% DM, 6 MJ ME, 4% CP





Wholecrop 40% DM, 10.5 MJ ME, 9.5% CP





Protein supplement, e.g. rapemeal





Notes: MJ = megajoules, ME =, DM = dry matter, CP = crude protein

Importance of protein

A protein supplement will be useful close to calving to support the colostrum and milk production. Reducing the straw and increasing the silage closer to calving will also help increase the energy density of the diet and the overall protein level to support the heifer through the calving process and get her ready for lactation and preparation for service a few weeks later.

For more information visit the nutrition for heifers link on the AHDB Maternal Matters webpage