Replacement Heifers Becoming a Bigger Investment

heifer auction
heifer auction
(Duane Dailey, University of Missouri)

Bonus Content

Learn more about Missouri's Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer program here. 

Just last month, the Show-Me- Select heifer sale in Palmyra, Mo., set a new price record, with the top lot averaging $2,450. And all the fall special Show- Me-Select heifer sales throughout the state saw prices climb. It’s expected that higher replacement female prices will become more common for commercial producers as demand for quality replacementfemales increases.

For those with sticker shock, the idea might be to raise your own replacement. Either way, heifers are an investment. The draw for buyers at the Missouri heifer sales is that the program’s criteria help to ensure that the heifers meet certain standards prior to sale. Most heifers that go through the program end up staying in the herd; others are sold for a premium at special Show- Me-Select heifer sales throughout the state.

The premise of the program is to guarantee buyers that heifers are sound, bred-to-quality bulls with EPD information available and have gone through certain animal health protocols. These protocols are based on research that shows a return on investment and improved production for the animal.

"In our region, we have many producers who have been in the program long-term," says Roger Eakins, a University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist in Jackson, Mo. Some producers drop out because they aren’t willing or don’t have the ability to manage the heifers according to the criteria.

"You have to manage them, and there’s an investment associated with that," Eakins says. But, he adds, those doing the management are seeing higher value and receiving higher prices for their heifers. Since all heifers going through the sale are guaranteed to be pregnant for 30 days, they are pregnancy checked twice: within 90 days after breeding to determine calving date and within 30 days of the sale. There are three criteria that give buyers assurance: health, reproduction and genetics. Evaluating those criteria can help you whether you are purchasing or raising replacements.

Your veterinarian is a great resource for determining a protocol that fi ts your operation. "Purchasing or raising replacement heifers and how we introduce them into our cowherd has implications for years to come," says veterinarian Dan Goehl, owner of Canton Veterinary Clinic. His recommendations for getting a heifer started on the right hoof include:

  • Two doses of modified live vaccine (five-way), two doses of Lepto and proper deworming.
  • Pelvic measure and track score prebreeding.
  • Keep nutrition up to par.
  • Ear notch test for persistently infected BVD animals.
  • Ensure that environment and diet are consistent pre- and postbreeding for maximum conception.
  • Follow state brucellosis and tuberculosis testing requirements.
  • If purchasing replacements, work with your veterinarian to implement a biosecurity protocol for quarantining purchased animals to ensure that diseases aren’t introduced to the herd.

The first point of control, whether keeping or purchasing, is selection, says David Lalman, an Oklahoma State University beef specialist. Producers need to give themselves the best chance of success by selecting the type of animal that fi ts their environment and management style.

Finding that fit isn’t always easy, Lalman says, but there are some things you can look for:

  • Crossbred versus purebred. An F1 heifer can produce as much as 25% more calf weaning weight in its lifetime through increased fertility and longevity.
  • Early born, or, even better, out of a cow that consistently calves early. This is an indication that the dam is a good fit for the environment.
  • Early bred. By selecting heifers that are bred early in the first breeding season, some reproductive problems are avoided. Early breeding is also an indication
    of environmental "fit."
  • Mother and sire have appropriate mature size and milk potential genetics for the producer’s available forage resources.

There are differences of opinion in the industry regarding low-input versus higher-input heifer development, Lalman adds.

"Targeting 65% of expected mature weight at initiation of the first breeding season increases the number of heifers cycling and bred early, but it requires higher feed inputs and may mask animals that are not well suited to the actual grazing environment and require more supplemental feed," Lalman says. "Therefore, some are keeping more heifers, aiming
for 50% or 55% of mature weight, then marketing late-bred and open heifers as yearlings." (For more information about the correlation between heifer weights and reproduction productivity, see the Cattle Nutrition column on page 9.)

"You have to be willing to take the time and manage heifers," Eakins says.

For those who can’t do that, purchasing quality bred replacement heifers may be an option. Just do your homework and make sure those heifers meet the criteria for your herd, he says. And know that animals with these types of guarantees are going to be worth more, but also have less risk associated with them.

Developing a Heifer Management Plan

Source:Joe Paschal, Texas AgriLife Extension Livestock Specialist

Good heifer management may be the most critical management tool. It produces a uniform group of heifers that, when given an opportunity to conceive early in the first breeding season, will calve early in the fi rst calving season.

1. Heifer selection at weaning

  • Retain only heifers with heavy actual weaning weights.
  • Retain 10% to 15% more heifers than the replacement rate requires.
  • Do not retain heifers with structural defects.
  • Do not select heifers based only on visual character.

2. Management from weaning until breeding

  • Weigh all heifers at weaning.
  • Determine the target weight by the start of breeding.
  • Calculate necessary daily weight gain per heifer from weaning to start of breeding.
  • Design rations to achieve the desired daily gain.

3. Management at breeding

  • Remove heifers with noticeable unsoundness resulting from lameness or chronic illness.
  • Initiate breeding 20 to 30 days before the start of the breeding season in the mature cowherd.
  • Mate heifers to bulls that have a history of calving ease.
  • Breed for no more than 70 days and then remove bulls.

4. Management after breeding

  • Preg check 60 to 65 days after the end of breeding.
  • Retain heifers that conceived.
  • Market all open heifers to your best advantage.
  • Beginning 60 to 90 days before the start of calving, separate pregnant heifers from the mature cowherd.
  • Feed heifers (or allow adequate grazing) to weigh at least 85% to 90% of their expected mature weight by the start of first calving.
  • By the start of calving, heifers need a body condition score of at least 5 or 6.

5. Management at calving

  • Hold heifers in an easily accessible pasture for observation and assistance during calving.
  • Check heifers three or four times a day.
  • Continue to feed heifers to maintain their body condition through calving and rebreeding.

6. Management during the second breeding season

  • If first-calf heifers are in poor body condition and/or you are short of feed, consider early weaning of their calves by 30 to 60 days of age or use once-a-day suckling by the time calves are 30 days old.
  • Breed for 60 to 80 days, starting the breeding season at the same time as the mature cows.
  • Cull all fi rst-calf heifers that fail to rebreed.

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