“Crossbred heifers can be really good, especially Hereford-Angus,” says Roy Hoffman. “They make really good range cows. Today, mine are mostly Angus, but we have a few Charolais-cross cows (¾ Angus) and we like them. A good crossbred heifer makes the best cow.”

Ross Goddard’s cattle are Optimizers, an Angus-Salers composite. “Optimizer cows have better longevity than straight Angus and we don’t have the turnover a lot of breeds have. We also use Optimizer bulls, so the calves have the same mix and retain hybrid vigor. This also makes a difference in maternal traits,” he says.

“A person has a big investment in raising heifers. If they’ll last another two years, you don’t have to keep quite as many heifers each year. Our cows also have to perform well in a range environment. When we bring them home in the fall, we wean the calves and the cows go back out on the mountain until November. They have to be hardy,” he says.

His heifers calve in January, his cows in February. They must be fertile to breed early and breed back quickly before they go to the range. He likes the fertility and efficiency of composites.

Most of his cows are black, but a few are red. “We try to keep them mostly black just because that’s what everyone seems to want. We don’t keep any heifers with white in the udder area,” in order to minimize sunburned or chapped teats, Goddard says. 

Keep more than you need

Dale Edwards grows his heifers to yearlings before selecting replacements. It helps him identify those that continue to grow well and “weren’t just bloomy with baby fat from milk.” He sells the rejects as feeders.

RJ Hoffman, Salmon, ID, keeps all his heifers, selecting the top 75% to breed, and spaying the rest. “The few that don’t breed or breed late also go to market. Keeping this many heifers enables me to sell bred cows,” he says.

He sells late-calving cows, or older, solid-mouthed cows with several years’ production left. He strives to keep his herd young and tightly bunched in calving.

“This gives my cow customer a good set of cows, while I push my cow age down. The cows I sell are good for somebody else for quite awhile, and I can keep more heifers coming on,” Hoffman says.

Heather Smith Thomas is a rancher and freelance writer in Salmon, ID.