A single equals two. Whether it’s a double play or two runs home, that’s baseball math. It’s also why every manager since the beginning of the game has hollered at his players, “cover your bases.”

It makes sense to Ron Hoffman. In cowboy math, however, covering your bases might very well mean a home run.

Hoffman owns Hoffy’s Heifers near Bayard, NE, where he develops and sells commercial bred heifers and first-calf heifer pairs to a variety of ranchers. While moving from a commercial cow-calf operation to a niche like replacement heifers has been profitable, it takes a different management mindset.

So, if you’re thinking to take advantage of the long-awaited cowherd expansion that will happen shortly after the rains come sweeping across the Plains, Hoffman’s advice is simple: you’ve got to cover all the bases.

“Anybody can buy some heifers, put some feed in them, turn in a bull, hit a hot market, and succeed for a year or two,” he says. “But ultimately, if you’re going to be in the heifer development business, you have to have your customers’ success first and foremost. If you don’t, you probably won’t be in business very long.”

Hoffman defines customer success as a heifer that delivers a live calf, breeds back and has another good calf, and becomes a profitable part of the herd for six years or more. To help his customers succeed under that definition, Hoffman’s program develops heifers to get through the window of vulnerability that the first and second calves represent. “The more I can do to help the success my heifers will have for the rancher, the more success I’ll have,” he says.

Tips for success

So, if you want to get into the heifer business, consider these tips.

“You’ve got to have quality in the cattle, quality breeding,” he says. He buys all his heifer prospects in the fall, off the cow and weighing 550-575 lbs. They’re developed over the winter, bred the following spring when they weigh 700-750 lbs., and then marketed as customers need them. He’s fortunate, he says, that western Nebraska has many top-notch seedstock producers, so there’s plenty of great genetics available.

Beyond that, it’s management. He says you’ve got to have quality nutrition with good grass, a good mineral program, and enough energy and protein supplementation to keep them growing after the snow flies. A quality health program is a given and your bull power has to be right – calving ease and low birthweights, yet reasonable growth potential. “And you’ve got to either learn how to ultrasound or have a veterinarian who ultrasounds for you. That’s important to get them into calving groups – it adds a lot of value to have short, defined calving times.”