Cull Low Genetic-Potential Heifers

October 7, 2012 01:06 PM

With feed prices through the roof, most producers think that culling cows is their best option.

But with genomic tests now available, it might be prudent to test heifers and cull low end replacements, says Dick Wallace, a senior veterinarian with Pfizer Animal Health based in Wisconsin.

You’ll first need to look at your heifer inventory and do a realistic assessment on how many replacements you’ll need. Wallace recommends keeping 5% to 10% more than what you think you’ll need. But many more than that can be a cash flow and feed inventory draining exercise.

"Under normal feed prices, it costs about $2 per day to feed a heifer, or $60 a month," he says. Most genomic tests run $50/head if you include labor, which is the equivalent of one month’s worth of feed.

Getting the genomic test done will also verify parentage. Sire misidentification can run as high as 20% in some herds, he says.

Once you rank your replacements on genomic merit, you can go out to your heifer lots and start culling. Also verify growth and thriftiness. Occasionally, a high genetic merit may have had a bout of pneumonia or other health problem. Despite her high merit, it’s unlikely she’ll fulfill her genetic promise. But most often, the lowest ranking animals should be the first to be culled.

Once animals are ranked, you can make better breeding decisions on the top ranking animals. Maybe the top one-quarter ranked heifers are bred with sexed semen so you get more heifers out of them, accelerating genetic gain. Mid-range heifers could be bred with cheaper, conventional semen.

"Genomic testing is one of the most fascinating tools we have. It’s like compound interest, because when used correctly, you keep building your genetic advantage," he says. 

You can read more on Pfizer’s genomic testing program here.

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