I think we’re in the sweet spot of heifer development,” says Voyd Brown, DVM of Barry County Veterinary Services (BCVS) at Cassville, Mo.

Brown is talking about the evolution of a growing BCVS service, as well as the opportunity for a national cattle herd that appears to be on the verge of expansion.

Heifer development in this case includes measuring the pelvic area of heifers, scoring the reproductive tract, weighing them, and evaluating structural fitness. The program at BCVS mirrors the state’s innovative Show-Me-Select Heifer Development program that began in 1996. Brown and his partner, David Cupps, DVM, were among the first to enroll in that program.

In terms of the nation’s cow herd, consider that the 29.9 million beef cows reported in the January 1 inventory represented the paltriest herd since 1962. Last year’s calf crop was the fewest since 1950. Depending on how you slide the beads on the abacus of assumption, herd expansion this time around will be slower, flatter and more regional than at any time in the past. Hobbled to a different pony, that means every heifer retained for replacement has exponentially more value. Consequently, objective measurements utilized in heifer selection and development have more value.

Though Cupps and Brown dove into the Show-Me-Select program as an educational tool and to help clients qualify heifers for Show-Me-Select sales, they say 95 percent of the heifer development they do for clients today has nothing to do with that particular program. Instead, clients have seen the economic benefits of heifer development accrue in their herds.

Keep in mind, the typical BCVS client has fewer than 100 cows.

Holly Roe-Johnson, DVM sees the same kind of growing interest in her Hosmer Veterinary Clinic in South Dakota. About 90 percent of her practice is cow-calf, including about 15 percent feedlot.

“Our producers are beginning to see that pelvic measures are a management tool rather than an added cost,” Roe-Johnson says. “We have eliminated a lot of the heifer calving problems.”

For clients unconvinced, Roe-Johnson says an opportune time to chat about it occurs when she’s in the middle of pulling or cutting out a calf, a problem that could have been prevented.

Likewise, Roe-Johnson says more producers are seeing the management opportunity rather than the cost that comes with pregnancy checking via ultrasound, mostly heifers, but some cows, too.

By confirming pregnancy status earlier, she explains her clients understand they can remove open females from the breeding group sooner, whether they sell them immediately or turn them out to market as yearlings, exploiting the seasonal market advantage in late summer. Roe-Johnson adds, “No one wants to feed $6 corn or high-priced silage to an open heifer or cow.” She had more ultrasound appointments last fall than at any time during her eight years of practice in Hosmer.

Moreover, Roe-Johnson says during the nightmarish winter of 2011, producers who had ultrasounded could see which heifers and cows should be calving at what time. They could move the imminent calvers closer to home rather than trying to keep an eye on the entire herd.