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Setting Standards For Replacement Heifers

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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.

For additional tips for getting the most out of your replacement heifers, click here.

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?

Discuss this Blog Entry 6

on Jun 11, 2012

I want my heifers to be out of milky mommas who raised that heifer on grass, bred back easily and produced an above average weaning weight. I never discount the influence of a cow family on a heifer's potential.

Barshoe (not verified)
on Jun 20, 2012

You are certainly correct about the influence of a cow family on a heifer's potiential. People that have studied Genology have found that the female side has as much as 65% of the production of their offspring, but the remaining 35% supplied by the sire's side certainly has a lot to do about the final production of the offspring. Consider if you had total production from the dam's side and nothing positive from the sire's side. You could only espect 65% production and that is not sufficient for the offspring's production. I would suggest to you that you select the highest producing females and have teir EPDs evaluated. Select those traits that you are trying to perputuate and then consider the EPDs of the best bulls of your breed. Consider the bulls with the highest EPDs that you are trying to perpetuate and get semen from those bulls. Sink up your chosen heifers for two cycles and AI them with the chosen bull's semen. Use your procedures to assure the highest conception rate. Your heifers that have conceived from the AI procedure will usually calve within a 2 to 2 1/2 from one another. Evaluate both the bulls and heifers and get EPDs on all of them. Consider if you have improved your positionwith the AI calves. If you have then you need to continue with the AI process. It is my esitimation you will get calves with higher EPDs and your herd will improve. May GOD bless you

Kalyn Bischoff (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2012

Currently there are 5.2 million beef replacement heifers in the USA. However only 61.4% of those heifers will calve and become a part of the cow/calf herd. This seems to be a huge inefficiency within the beef industry. The development of replacement heifers is critical for the overall success of an operations future. Science has proven that cows that calve early in their first calving season will continue to do so throughout their lifetime, stay within the annual calving system longer, and have an overall increased lifetime production. However to allow heifers to do so, they must be developed properly. Replacement heifers that do not become pregnant within the first breeding season should not be given a “second chance”. As Grimes stated there is little reason that replacement heifers should not become pregnant if managed properly. Retaining replacement heifers that do not become pregnant within the first breeding season allows subfertility to enter into the beef cow herd. By developing heifers to reach puberty and experience multiple estrous cycles prior to the breeding season, and requiring them the opportunity to become pregnant to calve at two years of age, allows for a producer to optimize the return on their investment. Therefore calving at two years of age is a standard that I have set and firmly stand by in my replacement heifer herd!

Bobbi (not verified)
on Jun 11, 2012

We have HIGH standards for our heifers. We keep individual data on all our cows and chose heifers based on production traits and physical characteristics. We have a list of a few cows that we do not keep heifers out of them no matter how perfect they look. We develope them to 55-60% of mature weight (750-800 lbs) and synchronize and breed them with a bull for 45 day breeding season. We could AI but choose the bull as my hubby and I both work off the farm and the bull has more time to heat detect than we do. That with breeding 20 heifers/yr we still need a clean up bull for just a couple heifers so he might as well breed all 20 (more efficient use off our bull dollars). We get 95-98% preg rates on our heifers (45 day breeding season) and our older cow herd averages 94-95% (75 day breeding season). We can still cover most if not all our developement cost if she is sold as an open heifer the first year. If they do not stay in the herd for at least 4-5 years we have lost money on developing that heifer. We do calve and feed our 1st calvers separate from the mature herd, to make sure they have the tools they need to have their 2nd calf within the 1st 45-60 days of the calving season. I find setting standards and goals is the easy part, sticking to them is the hard part. We sort all of the heifers that don't meet our criteria due to cow performance (bad udder, personality, calves consistantly later) into an different pen before we pick our heifers - I gets rid of the temptation to keep the best looking heifer in the herd even though her momma has the worst udder.

BARSHOE (not verified)
on Jun 20, 2012

I agree with you as to setting standards and goals and sticking to them. Among the standards I also set are EPDs. If you were to take 20% of what you have selected and also consider the heifer with the best EPDs and AI these heifers after cyning them up for two cycles, with semen from the bulls with the highest EPDs that you are trying to perpetuate. Use a bull to catch the heifers not pregnant from the AI. Evuate the resultin heifers and bulls for EPDs and consider if you have not improved above your other calves EPDs. If you have improved continue the AI procedure.

Tom Smith (not verified)
on Jun 22, 2012

Records are important. For me to keep a heifer, she must meet the following criteria:
1. Her dam must have a good udder, produce a good calf, and breed back on time or early every year. Fertility is only 10% heritable, but I want that slight edge. And I have records documenting that some of my cows have produced heifers that ALL calved at 21-23 months of age.
2. She must have good health, growth, skeletal structure, and conformation. Caution: Extreme growth leads to larger mature cows and higher maintenance costs.
3. She doesn't have to be a house pet, but I won't keep one that wants to tear out the back fence or run over me.
4. We don't use bulls that don't have reasonable calving ease, growth, milk, scrotal, and maternal calving ease EPD's, so which sire she is from is not a factor. I do like to look at the dams of the bulls I buy, to see their udders and learn about their past production. Some breeds also have stayability EPDs.
5. She should be born in the earliest half of the breeding season, to have more age and higher probability of becoming pregnant during the first and later breeding seasons.

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A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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