Dr. Dillon Feuz, University of Nebraska Agricultural Economist at the Panhandle Research Station recently addressed the issue of raising versus buying replacement heifers. He carefully examined the costs of raising replacements and correctly included the value of increased carrying capacity of the operation, if replacements are purchased. Using cattle prices and input prices that are in line with today's markets, Dr. Feuz arrives at a "cost" of raising a bred commercial replacement heifer at approximately $700. The details that make up these costs can be located in a paper entitled "The Costs of Raising Replacement Heifers and the Value of A Purchased Versus Raised Replacement." He concludes that a typical ranch could carry 15% more cows, if the replacements were purchased each year. With that included in the economic analysis, another $75 dollars might be added to the potential breakeven value of purchased replacements.

Dr. Feuz points out that his economic analysis does not include genetic quality differences that may exist between purchased and raised heifers. This however is an important consideration. Some commercial operations may find it very difficult to cost effectively purchase replacements that are genetically equal or superior to those raised at home. Others may greatly benefit from the genetic improvement provided by heifers purchased from another operation.

No consideration in the decision to "Raise" or "Buy" is greater than herd health. Producers must know the origin of potential replacement heifers and have confidence that the herd from which they came is free from any serious disease problem. Work with your local veterinarian to discuss which herd health issues must be addressed before bringing cattle into your operation from elsewhere. Begin the discussion with diseases such as brucellosis, tuberculosis, and Johnes disease. Include in the list of diseases with which to be cautious: Respiratory diseases such as infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine viral diarrhea (BVD types I and II), bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) and parainfluenza (PI). Clostridial diseases (such as blackleg and malignant edema) and Leptospirosis can be prevented successfully with proper vaccination programs. Nonetheless, they must be included in the herd health program of the herd of origin for purchased replacement heifers.

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