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The Cattle Connection

The cattlemen's connection to timely topics, current research, and profitable management strategies
heifer development

Makin Momma Cows: Part 1 of 4

Where will your herd be in 5 years? The answer to this question relies heavily on how you develop heifers. Not only are they the future of your operation, but they are also the future of the US beef herd. These heifers will be the cows that the industry is so desperately calling for to replenish record-low cow numbers.

The ultimate goal is a heifer that gives birth to a healthy calf at 24 months of age and successfully re-breeds. Wow... that is easier said than done!

Heifer selection, health, nutrition, and breeding are the major steps in reaching this goal. Selecting replacement females is where it all starts. Standard replacement rates are between 10 to 20% of the herd. Seedstock herds tend to turn the cowherd over faster to keep implementing the newest genetics. As a result, heifer replacement rates will be higher. Now, because not all replacement candidates will make it, you need to keep ~10% more heifers than your ultimate replacement rate.

A selection criterion for replacement heifers is far more involved than a paragraph in a blog, but here are a few basic scenarios:

-Retain all heifers and breed. Culling takes place at preg-check. Many times a strict, short breeding season is used. Sometimes heifers are synched, AI'd, and whoever becomes pregnant to that AI is kept.

-Retain heifers born in the front half of the calving season. Remove top and bottom 10% by size and weight. This results in a uniform set of heifers, that are older, and from mothers that are calving at the front of your season.

-Select heifers from older cows. This theory would imply that these heifers are genetically "fit" for your system. If their mothers experience longevity in your production system, then those genetics best fit your operation.

Heifer selection for most of us is more involved than the previous scenarios. Sometimes, I am not sure that that is better, but it is the truth. Pedigrees, EPD's, ratios, individual performance data, and DNA testing are all integral parts of modern-day heifer selection. No matter your selection criteria, it is important to avoid extremes and retain cattle that will fit your management.

Upcoming posts will discuss the roles that herd health, heifer nutrition, and breeding play in meeting the ultimate goal of makin' momma cows.

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