Even if you’re not faced with drought conditions this year, it might be hard to decide whether to keep heifer calves or sell them. Is it better to sell heifers and keep bred cows that will produce a calf next year or sell bred cows and keep heifer calves that won’t produce a calf next year but offer more flexibility?
Here are a few recommendations from Aaron Berger, University of Nebraska Extension:
- Heifer calves require less total feed than a bred cow. Two heifers can be retained and grown on forage with a protein or energy supplement on about the same feed as one cow.
- Heifer calves are easier to move to another location or feed in a dry lot next spring if drought conditions persist. They are also easier to manage in a dry lot than cows with baby calves.
- Heifer calves likely represent the direction you want to go with your genetic program.
- Heifer calves will gain value as they gain weight from fall to winter. Their value continues to increase as they become bred heifers and, later, bred 3-year-olds or bred 4-year-olds.
- Middle age to older pregnant cows will probably just be holding their value through the fall and winter, or could lose value if drought conditions persist.
- Pregnant cows 7 years old or older are likely to depreciate in value. As cows have dental deterioration, their value significantly decreases.
- Cow herd numbers have been building nationally. Historically, when cow numbers grow, prices for calves and bred cows tend to trend down. Heifers bred for next year might be positioned to be producing calves as prices are likely moving back up.
Often, during drought or short forage seasons, the focus is to hold on to the cow “factory” and sell heifers for cash liquidity. In any situation, producers should consider selling upper middle age to older bred cows and keeping heifer calves if they wish to have greater flexibility in their herd next year.