Given the current prices seen in today's cattle markets, it pays to set high standards for replacement heifers.
Replacement heifers are certainly an investment. At our ranch, we usually retain 50% of our heifer crop each year to develop and retain in the cowherd. We have found this is the best way to add numbers and improve genetics quickly in our herd. The investment in raising these heifers and feeding them for two years before they have their first calf is one of the biggest costs our operation incurs. That’s why I believe it’s so important that these ladies earn their keep.
Just a few weeks ago, we synchronized our replacement heifers and some second-calvers. Usually, we try to catch as many in natural heat as possible, but we find synchronizing using CIDRs is an effective method to get our females bred. Once artificially inseminated (AI), we hauled the heifers out to grass and turned the bull out a few weeks later. We will keep an eye on things to help determine how many heifers will stick to the AI date. Being able to breed these females to new genetics helps us to add value to the next calf crop, so we are able to offer bulls to meet our customers’ needs.
John F. Grimes, Ohio State University Extension beef coordinator, offers some advice on managing replacement heifers.
Grimes says it’s important to maintain strict reproductive standards on these females for them to be positive additions to the herd.
“Since we are in the midst of breeding season for most operations, little can be done to change how replacement heifers have been developed to this point. The producer is dealing with the hand they've been dealt. How we manage them now from a reproductive standpoint, however, can have a big impact on the overall reproductive performance of the herd today and for years to come.”
Here are a few tips garnered from Grimes’ article:
- A producer should expect excellent reproductive performance (90%+ conception rates) from a properly developed heifer.
- If she is adequate in size (60-65% of mature weight at puberty), been involved in a sound health program, and has been exposed to a fertile bull or bred artificially with high-quality semen, there is little reason that she should not become pregnant in a 60-90-day breeding season.
- Pregnancy status should be determined within 60 days after the conclusion of the breeding season through rectal examination, ultrasound, or available blood tests. The cost of a pregnancy examination or test is a very small investment that can save an operation many dollars compared to the costs of maintaining an open female.
Do you retain replacement heifers? What standards do you have set for selecting these females? What tips do you have to get the most out of the investment?