Ross Goddard waits up to a month after weaning to make his selection. Roy Hoffman looks for feminine-looking heifers that are smooth and well balanced.

Like shopping for a pickup, selecting heifers depends on your vision, resources and how you plan to use them. We talked to a number of commercial cow-calf producers about how they go about selecting the newest genetic components for their herds. Here’s what they had to say.

Goddard, Tendoy, ID, uses a long, but simple process in selecting replacement heifers.

“It’s not a scientific method. We don’t go back through records to see what kind of mothers they had, because if a heifer is what we’re looking for, she probably had a good mother,” Goddard says. Cows with bad udders or poor disposition have already been culled, he explains.

He also doesn’t make his selections at weaning; he’ll wait up to a month because calves “change a little after coming off their mothers.” For instance, some heifers that are bloomy-fat may not look as good later, and vice versa. He also holds back about 10% more heifers than he needs, to allow for more sorting later.

Meanwhile, Roy Hoffman, a second-generation, 50-year rancher near Salmon, ID, seeks feminine-looking heifers that are smooth and well balanced. “Some cattle today have a dip in their back, with a high tail; I keep those with a long, straight back because they seem to have fewer calving problems.”

Muscling is also important. “Even in heifers, you want them meaty as well as feminine. They also need to have easy fleshing ability, especially on the range.” Planning for the long haul, he also looks for efficient, easy keepers, with good feet and leg structure.

In selecting replacements, God-dard looks for “moderate frame size, a little femininity, a clean front end, smooth and balanced – not too coarse.” He culls the largest heifers to protect against growing the average frame size in his mature cows. He prefers a medium-sized cow that raises a big calf, rather than huge cows that eat more feed and don’t produce that much more pounds of calf.

Disposition is very important to Goddard. “I don’t care how good looking she is, or what she is, if there are any disposition issues, she’s gone,” he says.

“We work on foot during calving and can’t tolerate hard-to-handle cows. We end up with a few that surprise us anyway, but we don’t need them that way right off the bat. When we do a final sort on heifers, we sort off ‘wolfy’ or hard-to-handle heifers,” he says.

Disposition is also critical to RJ Hoffman because he handles his cattle by himself when his cows calve in late January to early February. “I don’t want problems. If a heifer is wild or flighty, I don’t keep her, or any heifer whose mother is wild,” he says.

RJ is Roy Hoffman’s son and operates his own cattle outfit, also near Salmon, ID.

Fertility

The next stage in Goddard’s selection process is breeding. He looks for his most fertile heifers. He culls any that don’t breed early or end up open.

RJ Hoffman wants all his heifers bred in the first 45 days of breeding season. “I don’t subscribe to the rule that a heifer has to be 65% of her mature body weight by breeding age. I pull a few out that are too big.”

“I turn the bulls in on April 19, and take them out July 10. I preg-check heifers 30 days after the bulls are pulled. To any cows that are open, questionable or bred only a short time, I administer Lutalyse and send them with my spayed heifers to market,” RJ Hoffman says.

His cows and heifers start calving Jan. 20 and most calve in the first three weeks.

“I don’t see the point of calving heifers three weeks ahead of cows. Calving heifers earlier just makes your calving season longer. Some heifers might lose two weeks when they calve the second time under my system, but they’re back to the front of the herd by the third calf,” he says.

Any female – young or old – that doesn’t breed back early is sold, and he has a good market for those later-calving cows, he says. This constant selection pressure on fertility ensures that heifers staying in the herd come from a line of fertile
females.

Dale Edwards, who operates in  eastern Idaho, synchronizes heifers with an MGA protocol, breeds them via artificial insemination (AI), and follows up with cleanup bulls. “We have an earlier calf crop because we get 60% of them bred early. The second time around, we get 60% of what’s left, so 80-85% of the heifers are bred in the first 45 days, instead of the typical 70% when breeding without synchronization,” he says.

He wants heifers that reach puberty quickly, without getting fat. Overweight heifers don’t breed as well as those in moderate condition, he explains.

“We don’t let cattle lose condition in winter, and we feed them more while they’re growing. The heifers stay in better condition, breed quicker, milk better and have healthier calves.” Edwards says.