Evaluating the 5-Year-Old Seedstock Cow: Is She Pulling Her Weight?

In the seedstock business, the bar is higher than in a commercial herd. Registered breeders need more from their cows than just an acceptable calf.
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Weaning is a good time for herd evaluation. How did the cows do this year? Did each individual cow bring home a good calf? In the seedstock business, the bar is higher than in a commercial herd. Registered breeders need more from their cows than just an acceptable calf. They need calves that will become highly marketable bulls as well as heifers that can enter the herd as replacements and contribute positively to the next round of superior genetics.

Registered cows that fail to produce marketable bull progeny and/or herd-worthy replacement heifers don’t have a place in a seedstock herd. They may be acceptable as commercial females, but in a registered herd, they simply occupy space and use up resources that could be beneficially directed elsewhere.

Practical Application. Consider a 5-year-old seedstock cow that has just weaned her fourth calf. She’s bred back every year, which is one positive attribute. However, by age 5, she should have done more than that for her owner. With four calves to her name, she should have profitably contributed to the herd by producing at least one (better yet, two or three) marketable sale bulls and/or replacement heifers. Cows that fail to meet that goal by the time they’ve produced four calves might as well be removed from the seedstock herd and replaced.

Production costs are higher in the seedstock business compared to commercial operations, particularly in the areas of breeding, marketing and labor related to data collection/submission. Thus, any 5-year-old cow that has produced only feeder-quality steers and heifers is not pulling her weight.

For illustration, consider the three example cows shown in the table below. Each cow is evaluated relative to her contribution to the seedstock herd. Cow 1 has done an excellent job, producing two replacement-quality heifers and one marketable bull out of her first four calves. That’s three out of four, which is a good batting average. Cow 2 also performed well and has one breeding-quality bull and one replacement heifer to her credit in four calves. She’s made two solid contributions to both the short and longer-term profitability of the registered herd.


Cow 3, on the other hand, has failed to make even one positive contribution. She is essentially a commercial cow that in four tries was unable to produce a calf that was a “breeder” not a “feeder.” This cow might be reproductively sound for another four calves, but her ability to contribute financially to a seedstock herd is seriously in doubt. There’s nothing particularly useful about this cow to a registered operation.

Conclusion. Seedstock breeders, from one to the next, may evaluate their own cows differently from the example provided in this article. Some might be more strict and decide that by age 4, a cow needs to have produced at least one salable bull progeny or one replacement heifer. That, of course, is up to the individual breeder. The important point is that every registered cow needs to contribute to the seedstock enterprise with progeny that themselves pass muster as breeding animals. A cow that can’t do that in three or four tries has no real place in a registered herd.