Anecdotal evidence suggests at least some cow/calf producers are taking advantage of better grass and record calf prices to hold back heifers; when selecting which animals to retain, there are a number of steps they can take that will improve longevity of their herds.
One of those, according to Dr. Patrick Davis, University of Missouri livestock specialist at the Cedar County office in Stockton, is to select heifers that were born earlier in the calving season. Davis told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor research from the University of Nebraska finds those animals are in turn more likely to conceive earlier in their first breeding season. Those early conceptions can lead to a more successful herd; data from the USDA Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, Nebraska, and from South Dakota beef herds, suggest heifers calving within the first 21 days of their first calving season have increased longevity, and wean more pounds of calf over their first six calving seasons when compared to their later calving counterparts.
Davis added, “Another criterion that should be used is pelvic examinations, which allow the producer to identify heifers that do not have a sound reproductive tract or that have a small pelvic area that could lead to calving difficulties.” The exams should be conducted 30 to 60 days prior to the breeding season. If heifers are found to have an unsound reproductive tract or small pelvic area, they should be culled from the replacement pool.
Dr. Robert Wells, livestock consultant with the Samuel R. Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla., told OFN when picking out an animal from your own herd, don’t gravitate to the largest female in the weaned calf crop. “If you do that, then you’re selecting for a larger framed female, and over time that’s going to increase the mature cow size in your herd,” he said. Should you seek out smaller heifers? “That fully depends upon the size of your herd as it is. If you’re happy with the size that your cows are, then stay with a female that is going to be very similar, and look at the cow that she came out of. If that cow is representative of what you like in your herd, then use her.”
Some producers select replacements based on sire EPDs; Wells said they should look for the highest possible number for maternal calving ease. “Look for birth weights to an extent, but your maternal calving ease will cover most of that,” he said. Other favorable traits include hip heights, scrotal circumference, and milk – but, Wells cautioned, “We have enough milk built into most of our cow herds now that we don’t need to be pushing the extremes. Moderation is the place where we need to be on milk.”
In some cases, producers are truly replacing cows, even if those cows had been efficiently producing calves. Look to the future; Wells said if a cow is older than 9 or 10, you should check the inside of her mouth around fall weaning time, and ensure she still has a good set of teeth to handle the dry forage that’s ahead. Ranchers may be hesitant to rebuild because they’re not sure the drought has been broken, but Wells said the economics may be worth it. He noted, “I had one cooperator here recently who sold a culled female, and she brought $1,575. He paid $1,150 for her four years ago, so there may be opportunities right now for a producer to sell an older culled cow for more than they paid for her. Still, we recognize that she’s not going to pay for the complete cost of her replacement.”


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