Jersey calves are gaining popularity across dairy and calf-raising operations in many parts of the country. Much like their Holstein counterparts, the first 60 days are critical to the future of their performance. However, there are important and unique breed characteristics raisers should keep in mind as they work with Jersey calves during these critical early life stages.
These cows are primarily a dairy breed, and while the females can serve as dairy cows when grown, that’s obviously not the case with male calves. While a small percentage is kept as bulls, most end up as veal calves or steers. The latter are generally fattened up and slaughtered at approximately 1 year of age. In essence, Steers are young castrated male cattle. While a large milk production capability paired with relatively small size is a plus for Jersey cows, small size in the steers is a negative for producing beef. Jersey bulls have a reputation for being difficult and dangerous.
Much of that is actually due to testosterone, so steers may be more tractable. While most Jerseys are a golden brown, colors range from light gray to a dark brown that’s almost black. The interesting thing about raising Jersey and Holstein fall calves are that both breeds do better than traditional beef on a pasture-fed diet, supplemented with grain, or just pasture. Also, they can be fed on winter ryegrass, for a very low investment, and sold later in the year when prices are higher.
Feed And Feeding Management Of Jersey Steers For Beef
Most will hit 1100 lbs at about 24-26 months and have a good degree of marbling. One can feed a little grain, like 1-2 lbs a day, for the last 2-3 months, for those that want it, which will add a little fat but the grass has to be GOOD. A show steer needs to eat 15 pounds of feed per day to gain 2.5 pounds. 15 pounds x 30 days = 450 pounds of feed per month. 450 x 9 months = 4050 pounds of feed. You should weigh your steer regularly to help determine how he is growing.
A 1000 pound steer could be fed 20-25 lbs. of corn per day plus 2-3 lbs. hay for 90 days as a finishing ration. Barley is the best grain for lot feeding cattle, but wheat, triticale, sorghum, maize, lupins, and oats can be used. Oats is not an ideal grain on its own for fattening cattle but can be used with any of the other grains. Hay or silage can be used as the roughage source. Feeding 1100 – 1200 of them in 13 months or thereabout by feeding shelled corn with a specifically designed protein pellet with a very minimal amount of hay or forage is a usual practice. The secret is to get them fast before they gain any extra frame.
Nutritional Facts About Jersey Steers
#1. Jerseys Require High Fat In Their Diets.
Nutrition can make or break a calf’s growth and development, particularly in Jersey. If they are successfully raised through weaning, the work gets much easier as they mature. The goal is for calves to gain an average of 2 pounds per day by 8 weeks old. Proper growth and development, especially before weaning, lead to better 2-year-old production and lifetime performance.
This is according to research conducted by Mike Van Amburgh at Cornell University. Jerseys have a higher maintenance energy requirement and need to start gaining weight to build their immune system quickly. High content of protein and fat in the milk or milk replacer, such as a 28 percent protein, 25 percent fat milk replacer, works well.
#2. Jerseys Have Lower Body Weight At Birth.
Jersey calves are typically born with lower birthweights than Holsteins and will require extra care. While this helps to reduce the amount of dystocia or calving difficulties experienced by them, it also means that these calves are born with quite little body fat. About 3 percent of a Jersey calf’s initial weight is body fat and is quickly expended by the calf to generate heat.
This explains why it’s critical at birth to ensure Jerseys are in a warm environment to prevent their body temperature from falling quickly. We recommend that Jersey calves be placed into a heated environment before being moved to the hutch during cool and cold weather.
Dehydration also is common for these cattle. Thus, producers need to get fluids into newborn calves quickly. This starts with high-quality colostrum, which is a vital component of calfhood growth and development. Colostrum should be harvested clean and fed within two hours of birth. Colostrum should be measured to ensure it will deliver adequate antibodies to the calf. An appropriate feeding rate is 10 percent of body weight or 3 to 4 quarts for Jerseys. Disease management is critical to calf wellness and should start before calves are born with dam vaccination to help bolster colostrum and help improve immunity. Another way to help reduce future disease challenges is to prime the immune system with an intranasal vaccine.
#3. Jersey Heifers Require High Calcium At Calving.
Milk fever or hypocalcemia can actually be a common challenge for Jersey heifers if they aren’t managed carefully. Hypocalcemia is caused by a shortage of blood calcium levels shortly after calving. The key here is the management of minerals in the pre-fresh diet. When calcium demands go up at calving, these open exchanges help Jerseys better meet that need. Monitor urine pH levels once a week after they have been on the diet for at least one week.
#4. Jerseys Reach Puberty Earlier In Life.
They mature a lot earlier and will reach puberty sooner than Holsteins. This creates an opportunity to actively manage breeding to ensure a first calving age of at least 22 months old. Heifers that calve earlier in life deliver a more promising return on investment. Every month, the first calving is delayed beyond 22 months costs producers more than $100 per heifer in lost milk production opportunity and additional raising costs. Also, reproduction is a strong trait of Jerseys, and many herds we work with have pregnancy rates of more than 28 percent. You can also consider administering a dose of prostaglandin on the day of moving into a breeding pen.
Heifers will show heats more easily and quickly, and all should come into estrus within the first week of being in the breeding pen. Just be sure to manage feed intakes so their body condition scores are at least 3 at breeding.