Animal Science Department


Date of this Version



Published in Journal of Animal Science 2003. 81:563–570. Copyright © 2003 American Society of Animal Science. Used by permission.


Metabolizable protein (MP) requirements of spring calving heifers increase over the winter due to advancing gestation. The MP content of grazed winter forage is low, which may result in an MP deficiency. The objective was to compare the response of supplementing pregnant yearling heifers to meet MP requirements versus conventional CP supplementation. In 1997–98 and in 1998–99, pregnant, March-calving heifers (2,120 animals; 358 kg) at two locations of a commercial ranch in the Nebraska Sandhills, were used following breeding through calving as 2-yr-olds (cows). Heifers were randomly allotted to one of two supplementation treatments (about 265 heifers/treatment) each year at each of two locations (Ashby and Whitman, NE). Treatments were 1) supplementation to meet MP requirements (MPR) or 2) supplementation to meet CP requirements (CPR). Heifers grazed upland range and meadow and were offered supplements three times weekly from mid-September to mid- or late-February. Increasing amounts of meadow hay were fed from mid-December through calving. After supplementation ended in February, heifers were managed in one group at each location until the following October. Body weights and body condition scores were taken in September, February, and October. Two-yr-old pregnancy rates were determined via rectal palpation in October. Capital budgeting techniques were used to determine the economic return of supplementation strategies. There were no differences in BW (P = 0.41) or body condition score (P = 0.99) change during the winter among treatment groups across years and locations, but MPR cows were heavier (425 kg) than CPR cows (421 kg) at the time of 2-yr-old pregnancy testing (P = 0.07). Pregnancy rate was higher (P = 0.001) in the MPR (91%) compared to the CPR treatment (86%). Regression analysis showed that the response of the MPR treatment on pregancy rates tended to be negatively correlated with precalving body condition score (P = 0.11), body condition score loss over the winter (P = 0.07), and body condition score at weaning of the first calf (P = 0.08). The improvement in 2-yr-old pregnancy by supplementing to meet MP requirements improved the value of each bred heifer by $13.64. We conclude that balancing MP requirements during gestation may result in a subsequent increase in 2-yr-old pregnancy and increase the value of young females.