The flank-incision method of spaying largely has been replaced by the trans-vaginal technique, which is faster, less labor-intensive, cheaper and safer. Using the trans-vaginal technique, a spayed heifer is back on full feed within 2-3 days, vs. 5-7 days with the surgical procedure, which also risks incision-site infections and scarring.
Market and profit perks
Producers who spay heifers feel it improves marketability. Prices for spayed heifers vary by year and region, but feedlots in general pay a little more for spayed heifers, says Daryl Meyer, DVM, North Platte, NE. “It’s like buying preconditioned calves — the chances of problems are less.”
Blake Nuffer, Montana Livestock Auction, agrees the biggest advantage to spaying heifers is their marketability.
“A rancher can spay heifers he doesn’t want to keep as replacements, and get more money for them. Spayed heifers may bring $5-$10/cwt. more than intact heifers of the same age/weight. Most buyers are receptive because they know they won’t have problems. Most feedlots don’t like feeding heifers, but spayed heifers continue to gain better during the feeding period,” he explains.
Even without a price premium, producers still reap added performance in the growing period. “If heifers are 100 days on pasture and gain just 0.01 lb./day more than they would as intact heifers, that’s an extra 10 lbs. at market time,” Meyer says. Some gain even more. At a cost of $5-$7/head for the spaying procedure, the added pounds can more than offset the veterinary cost.
Producers who retain ownership of heifers through the finishing phase have additional gain and performance. Merrill Beyeler, a rancher near Leadore, ID, has occasionally spayed his market heifers.
“You can pick the replacements and spay the rest. A few years back, we spayed a group we knew we didn’t want to breed, ran them on grass as yearlings, and finished them ourselves on feed for about 60 days. They did very well. Their average weight was 1,300 lbs., and all graded Choice and Yield, Grade 1 or 2. That made more money than if they’d been open heifers. We only needed to add 200 lbs. in the finishing phase,” Beyeler says.
RJ Hoffman, Salmon, ID, has spayed heifers for 10 years. He keeps all his heifers, breeding the top 75%.
“I pick my replacements in March, put them with bulls in April and spay the rest. I send the spayed heifers to the feedlot in August or early September. Spayed heifers gain better and can live with my replacement heifers, and I don’t have to worry about them being bred. I sell them before they get over 950 lbs.”
Hoffman says his spayed heifers have sold for as much as $2 more than steers, and most years are only $1-$2 lower than a similar steer. He reports that there’s usually an 8-10-cent difference between heifers and steers at 400 lbs., but only a 2-cent difference at 800-900 lbs.
“I sell a load of spayed heifers direct to the same feedlot every year, big enough to finish in 100 days,” Hoffman says.
Another advantage to spayed heifers is easier movement across state lines. Because they won’t be used for breeding, they’re treated like steers. They aren’t bound by the same testing regulations for brucellosis or tuberculosis as intact heifers.
The disease issue is also a factor for people who take in yearlings for grazing. “Many people want only steers or spayed heifers; they won’t pasture intact heifers,” says Daryl Meyer, DVM, North Platte, NE. He says vibrio or trichomoniasis can become an issue, for instance, because fences won’t always deter a motivated bull.
“The last thing you want is custom-grazed heifers bringing a new disease, or enticing a problem bull, into your herd,” Meyer says.
Heather Smith Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer based in Salmon, ID.
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