Farm Talk


October 29, 2013

Research-based tips for the heifer replacement selection

Parsons, Kansas — There are some important research-based tips that should be used to select and develop replacement heifers that will improve longevity of any cattle herd.

“These tips are good for any producer that wants to rebuild their cattle operations and improve productivity and profitability of their operation,” said Dr. Patrick Davis, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.

According to the United States Meat Animal Research Center and South Dakota beef herd data, heifers calving within the first 21 days of their first calving season had increased longevity. Furthmore, heifers categorized in this group weaned more pounds of calf over their first six calving seasons when compared to their later calving counterparts.

University of Nebraska researcher Dr. Rick Funston reported heifers born earlier in the calving season are more likely to conceive earlier in their first breeding season. This leads to them calving earlier in the subsequent calving season.  The same researcher reported steer progeny born earlier in the calving season produce higher value carcasses when compare to later calving steer counterparts.

“This research suggests that to improve beef cattle operation profitability it is important to develop and select replacement heifers that conceive earlier in the breeding season leading to them calving earlier in the subsequent calving season,” said Davis.

Here are some criteria to look at when selecting and developing your own replacement heifers according to Davis.

“Select heifers that were born early in the calving season, as well as heifers that are sound and functional.  Another criterion that should be used is pelvic examinations, which allows the producer to identify heifers that do not have a sound reproductive tract or a small pelvic area that could lead to calving difficulties,” said Davis.

Pelvic exams are done by a veterinarian 30 to 60 days prior to the breeding season. If heifers are found to have an unsound reproductive tract or small pelvic area they should be culled from the replacement pool.

“Proper development of that replacement heifer from weaning until she has her first calf is important for her to be productive and maintained in the herd,” said Davis.

For optimal performance, Davis says heifers should be developed to 65 and 85 percent of their mature weight prior to breeding and calving, respectively. It is also important to monitor condition scores of the heifers making sure they are a 5 body condition score or better prior to breeding.

“Research has shown this condition score is the threshold for optimum conception rates.  Prior to calving the body condition score needs to be 6. It is likely the first calf heifer will lose one body condition score between calving and breeding due to the high energy needs for growth, reproductive tract repair and lactation. That will put her in the optimum 5 condition score before breeding,” said Davis.

Finally proper development of the replacement heifer requires a proper health program so Davis also recommends visiting your local veterinarian to devise a program that best works for your cattle operation.

For more information, contact any of the MU Extension livestock specialists in southwest Missouri: Eldon Cole in Mt. Vernon, 417-466-3102, Andy McCorkill in Dallas County at 417-345-7551, Patrick Davis in Cedar County at 417-276-3313 or Logan Wallace in Howell County at 417-256-2391. £


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