By David Burton, University of Missouri
Most everyone in the beef business is excited about the shortage of beef cows and the low rate of retention of heifers to be made into cows according to Eldon Cole, a livestock specialist with University of Missouri Extension.
"The hope is those factors will translate into higher cattle prices and more profit for local farmers," said Cole.
Replacement heifers are key
That also makes the selection of which heifers to keep as replacements a key decision.
"If the cow herd owner is doing a good job of selecting his bulls and heifers, the best genetic package on the farm will be the heifer calves out of heifers," said Cole. "Some folks also need to be reminded that the biggest heifer is not always the best replacement prospect."
With the expanded use of expected progeny differences (EPDs) a producer should be able to find direct calving ease combined with acceptable growth, satisfactory milking potential for a specific management system, calving ease maternal, mature cow size, stayability and heifer pregnancy rate. This is especially true for producers that use artificial insemination in the first-calf heifers.
"As for size and puberty, there's not as much of a problem as we had when heifers were weaning off a heifer at 400 pounds or less at seven months of age. Many heifers are now bred at least a month prior to the cow herd and gives the heifer's calves a 50 pound or so advantage," said Cole.
For herds spilt with both February-March and September-October calvings, producers may choose to delay breeding until the heifers are 20 months or so old.
"This delay should not be necessary if your forage program is well-managed," said Cole. "There could even be merit in saving a heifer's heifer because she didn't get overly fleshy as a nursing calf. Fat heifers do not always develop into the best nursing mothers."
As heifer prospects are evaluated, Cole says to keep in mind that crossbred heifers will be more productive over their lifetime than purebreds. The higher production is attributed to improved fertility, longevity and the need for fewer replacements in the lifetime of the cow.
"So here is the bottom line. It is okay to keep a first-calf heifer's daughter for a replacement if you've done your homework," said Cole.