Skip to main content Accessibility help

Effects of reduced in utero and post-weaning nutrition on milk yield and composition in primiparous beef cows

  • R. C. Waterman (a1), T. W. Geary (a1), M. K. Petersen (a1) and M. D. MacNeil (a1)


Development and long-term retention of replacement beef females in a semi-arid environment are of a major concern for extensive livestock producers. Furthermore, the demand of not only producing a thriving, healthy calf, but having sufficient milk to support that first calf is essential. To address this issue, we conducted a 3-year study measuring milk production and milk constituent yields in primiparous beef heifers (n=48; 16/year reared under two different feeding regimens) raising steer calves. Cows received 1.8 or 1.2 kg/day winter supplementation for ~80 day before parturition and their heifer calves were then randomly assigned to heifer development treatments that provided ad libitum (AL) or 80% (less than ad libitum (LAL)) of ad libitum feed post weaning. Heifers developed on the AL treatment also received 1.8 kg/day winter supplementation for life, whereas heifers developed on the LAL treatment received 1.2 kg/day winter supplementation for life. Milk production of primiparous cows was measured with a portable milking machine every other week from days 27 to 125 postpartum. Milk yield for the 125-day lactation period was calculated from area under the lactation curve approximated by trapezoidal summation. The ANOVA model included in utero winter nutrition, post-weaning heifer development treatment, year and their interaction. Heifers subjected to the AL treatment reached peak milk yield ~12.3 day later (P=0.02) than heifers receiving LAL treatment. In addition, an in utero nutrition×post-weaning heifer treatment×year interaction existed (P⩽0.04) for milk peak yield, average daily milk yield (kg/day) and nutrient composition (protein, lactose, fat, solids non-fat, g/day). These interactions manifest as changes in magnitude and rank across the 3 years of the study. Livestock production in extensive environments is subject to variations in seasonal precipitation patterns and quality and quantity of grazeable forage and these fluctuations have a large impact on milk yield. In summary, the gestational nutritional environment of a heifer’s mother may interact with the heifer’s nutrient consumption during post-weaning growth and the current year to trigger variation in year-to-year milk production.


Corresponding author


Hide All
Appeddu, LA, Sawyer, JE, Serrato-Corona, JS, Knox, L, Parker, H, Hawkins, DE, Donart, GB, Hallford, DM and Petersen, MK 1997. Different uses of supplements by two-year-old cows during drought. Proceeding Western Section. American Society of Animal Science 48, 4548.
Beal, WE, Notter, DR and Akers, RM 1990. Techniques for estimation of milk yield in beef cows and relationships of milk yield to calf weight gain and postpartum reproduction. Journal of Animal Science 68, 937943.
Buskirk, DD, Faulkner, DB, Hurley, WL, Kesler, DJ, Ireland, FA, Nash, TG, Castree, JC and Vicini, JL 1996. Growth, reproductive performance, mammary development, and milk production of beef heifers as influenced by prepubertal dietary energy and administration of bovine somatotropin. Journal of Animal Science 74, 26492662.
Clanton, DC, Jones, LE and England, ME 1983. Effect of rate and time of gain after weaning on the development of replacement beef heifers. Journal of Animal Science 56, 280285.
DHI 2015. Persistency of milk production. Retrieved on 22 September 2015 from
Endecott, RL, Funston, RN, Mulliniks, JT and Roberts, AJ 2013. Joint Alpharma-Beef Species Symposium: implications of beef heifer development systems and lifetime productivity. Journal of Animal Science 91, 13291335.
Ferrell, CL 1982. Effects of postweaning rate of gain on onset of puberty and productive performance of heifers of different breeds. Journal of Animal Science 55, 12721283.
Grings, EE, Roberts, AJ, Geary, TW and MacNeil, MD 2008. Milk yield of primiparous beef cows from three calving systems and varied weaning ages. Journal of Animal Science 86, 768779.
Grings, EE, Short, RE, Klement, KD, Geary, TW, MacNeil, MD, Haferkamp, MR and Heitschmidt, RK 2005. Calving system and weaning age effects on cow and preweaning calf performance in the Northern Great Plains. Journal of Animal Science 83, 26712683.
Hixon, DL, Fahey, GC Jr., Kesler, DJ and Neumann, AL 1982. Effects of creep feeding and monensin on reproductive performance and lactation of beef heifers. Journal of Animal Science 55, 467474.
Küchler, AW 1964. Potential natural vegetation of the coterminous United States. American Geographical Society, New York, NY, USA.
Lesperance, AL, Bohman, VR and Marble, DW 1960. Development of techniques for evaluating grazed forage. Journal of Dairy Science 43, 682689.
Montano-Bermudez, M and Nielsen, MK 1990. Biological efficiency to weaning and to slaughter of crossbred beef cattle with different genetic potential for milk. Journal of Animal Science 68, 22972309.
Mulliniks, JT, Hawkins, DE, Kane, KK, Cox, SH, Torell, LA, Scholljegerdes, EJ and Petersen, MK 2013. Metabolizable protein supply while grazing dormant winter forage during heifer development alters pregnancy and subsequent in-herd retention rate. Journal of Animal Science 91, 14091416.
Newman, S, MacNeil, MD, Reynolds, WL, Knapp, BW and Urick, JJ 1993a. Fixed effects in the formation of a composite line of beef cattle: I. Experimental design and reproductive performance. Journal of Animal Science 71, 20262032.
Newman, S, MacNeil, MD, Reynolds, WL, Knapp, BW and Urick, JJ 1993b. Fixed effects in the formation of a composite line of beef cattle: II. Pre- and postweaning growth and carcass composition. Journal of Animal Science 71, 20332039.
NRC 2000. Nutrient requirements of beef cattle, 7th revised edition. National Academies Press, Washington, DC, USA.
Roberts, AJ, Geary, TW, Grings, EE, Waterman, RC and MacNeil, MD 2009a. Reproductive performance of heifers offered ad libitum or restricted access to feed for a 140-d period after weaning. Journal of Animal Science 87, 30433052.
Roberts, AJ, Grings, EE, MacNeil, MD, Waterman, RC, Alexander, L and Geary, TW 2009b. Implications of going against the dogma of feed them to breed them. Proceeding Western Section. American Society of Animal Science 60, 8588.
Roberts, AJ, Waterman, RC, Geary, TW, Alexander, LJ and MacNeil, MD 2010. Level of maternal winter supplement and feed restriction during postweaning development influences circulating concentrations of IGF-I in heifers during the peripartum and rebreeding period. Proceeding Western Section. American Society of Animal Science 61, 194196.
Roberts, AJ, Paisley, SI, Geary, TW, Grings, EE, Waterman, RC and MacNeil, MD 2007. Effects of restricted feeding of beef heifers during the postweaning period on growth, efficiency, and ultrasound carcass characteristics. Journal of Animal Science 85, 27402745.
SAS Institute 2010. SAS/Stat 9.3 User’s Guide. SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC, USA.
Sejrsen, K and Foldager, J 1992. Mammary growth and milk production capacity of replacement heifers in relation to diet energy concentration and plasma hormone levels. Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica, Section A – Animal Science 42, 99105.
Sejrsen, K, Purup, S, Vestergaard, M and Foldager, J 2000. High body weight gain and reduced bovine mammary growth: physiological basis and implications for milk yield potential. Domestic Animal Endocrinology 19, 93104.
Totusek, R, Arnett, DW, Holland, GL and Whiteman, JV 1973. Relation of estimation method, sampling interval and milk composition to milk yield of beef cows and calf gain. Journal of Animal Science 37, 153158.
Waterman, RC, Roberts, AJ, Geary, TW, Grings, EE, Alexander, LJ and MacNeil, MD 2011. Effect of reduced heifer nutrition during in utero and post weaning development on glucose and acetate kinetics. British Journal of Nutrition 106, 17021712.
Waterman, RC, Sawyer, JE, Kane, KK, Hawkins, DE and Petersen, MK 2014. Heifer body weight gain and reproductive achievement in response to protein and energy supplementation while grazing dormant range forage. Agricultural Science 5, 12961304.
Waterman, RC, Sawyer, JE, Mathis, CP, Hawkins, DE, Donart, GB and Petersen, MK 2006. Effects of supplements that contain increasing amounts of metabolizable protein with or without Ca-propionate salt on postpartum interval and nutrient partitioning in young beef cows. Journal of Animal Science 84, 433446.
Wood, PDP 1972. A note on seasonal fluctuations in milk production. Animal Production 15, 8992.


Effects of reduced in utero and post-weaning nutrition on milk yield and composition in primiparous beef cows

  • R. C. Waterman (a1), T. W. Geary (a1), M. K. Petersen (a1) and M. D. MacNeil (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed