Ensuring you have a healthy calf on the ground is a great reason to look at calving ease when retaining heifers.
By: Patrick Wall, Beef Program Specialist, Iowa State University Extension
Though spring-born calves are a long way from weaning, it’s never too early to start studying which heifer calves will earn a trip to the keeper pen. For fall-borns, that decision is happening soon, if it hasn't already happened. No doubt, the Iowa beef herd is geared for expansion and competition for feeder calves will be fierce as packer capacity strengthens in the upper Midwest. All said, it's imperative that producers get the right females retained in the herd.
Undoubtedly, calving ease is the #1 trait desired by producers, regardless of their program. Expressed as a percentage of unassisted births, Calving Ease Direct EPD (CED) becomes the trait of interest during bull selection; it’s the ability of a sire to generate calves that need no assistance at birth. When searching for a bull to exclusively cover heifers, that’s sound science. However, when it comes time to retain or purchase females for the herd, another column on the paper should take precedence, Maternal Calving Ease.
Often abbreviated MCE or CEM, this trait is the ability of a bull’s daughters to calve unassisted, again expressed as a percentage of unassisted births. This EPD is an indicator of pelvic area, or even the maternal "athletic" ability of a heifer to push out a calf on her own. It may be a good idea to review your bull battery for MCE. Chances are, the bull you turn out with your heifers may not be the best choice for keeping daughters. Logically, smaller calves have smaller pelvic areas and less growth. As a result, intense selection for CED can cause unwanted changes to the cow herd over time…and impact profitability.
Consider keeping replacements from older cows in the herd, this allows 2 year-olds time to prove their worth in traits like udder quality, mothering ability, re-breeding rate, and milk.