Select Replacements Wisely
All signs point to the U.S. cattle herd being in a rebuilding mode for the first time in a long while. The Jan. 1, USDA Cattle Inventory Report showed a 4 percent increase in beef replacement heifers – which doesn’t mean those animals won’t eventually be sent to market anyway – but it also showed an unexpected 1 percent rise in the 2014 calf crop over 2013. Other data, like a lower percentage of heifers in the feedlot herd and fewer cows in final 2014 slaughter totals, also suggest the breeding herd is finally on the rise.
Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension regional livestock specialist, told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, “We have quite a few heifers showing up here in Missouri that are intended to be bred this spring… My question is, are they really intended to go back into that owner’s herd, or is he going to develop them and sell them through a market such as we have with our Show-Me Select program? We have an increased interest in people wanting to develop heifers, and they may not end up in this immediate region; they may go somewhere else.” Extension urges producers to consider sourcing their heifers nearby; they’re accustomed to the environment and to the endophyte-infested Kentucky 31 fescue that dominates the landscape.
When evaluating heifers to be held back, Cole looks for animals that were conceived early in the breeding season, and born early in the calving season. “That indicates their mother was pretty prompt in getting bred back, and hopefully there is enough heritability that will allow them as heifers to breed quickly,” he said. If the producer is able to put the heifers into a herd and select candidates after the breeding season, it’s a good idea to have those heifers preg checked early to find out which were bred the quickest.
Cole also recommends heifers that are moderate in frame size and are not extreme either way in either frame or sheer weight. Dr. Robert Wells, a consultant with the Samuel R. Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla., told OFN it’s a common mistake to hold back the biggest, heaviest heifer in the herd. “If she’s the biggest heifer because she’s the oldest one that’s okay,” Wells said, “but if she’s one of the youngest ones she might not be the right heifer to keep back because over time, we will slowly, gradually increase the mature frame size of our cow herd by continuing to keep back that biggest female out of each calf crop.”
When selecting heifers from another operation, Wells recommended private treaty sales. A lot of ranches produce more high-quality females than they need for their own replacement needs; these sources provide a good way to increase the quality of your genetics, or to rapidly upgrade your herd quality in a very short period of time. Wells noted some producers have “a little too much pride in their herd” and won’t admit they could improve their genetics from outside the ranch.
Heifers should be at 65 percent or greater of mature body weight at weaning time. That means from weaning to breeding, they need to gain about 1.7 pounds per head per day. They should also have a good health program leading up to the breeding season, with two rounds of blackleg (clostridia) shots within the last year, and at least two rounds of a modified live viral vaccine to cover the viral respiratory component, preferably within 6 months prior to breeding. The heifer should also been vaccinated for vibriosis and leptospirosis, and treated for both internal and external parasites. Wells said, for ranches using estrus synchronization or A.I., it’s important to find someone who can do a reproductive track score; this helps to identify those heifers whose reproductive tracks are too immature and will not be ready to conceive through those methods. “It runs $4-5 per head,” he said, “but it’s money well spent to increase the ability to have a high conception rate.”