Estimated Progeny Differences (EPDs) can provide a good starting point when selecting heifers to retain in your herd, but there’s more to the decision.
“We can do what is called a pedigree estimate, just using the sire and the dam’s EPDs, and that’s probably a little bit better than the use of things like the mother’s regularity of calving,” Eldon Cole, University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist for the Southwest region told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “But I still like to look at the bigger picture and take a number of things into consideration when selecting a replacement heifer. Many people in the past have selected the biggest heifers to save, but bigness is not always an indicator of greatness when it comes to a replacement heifer. She might be a nice looking female, but she might not be the one that is going to stand the test of time and be a consistent producer. I think a lot of folks now look at the mid-ranged heifers, as far as size.”
Producers also should look for heifers that were born early in the calving season; that’s an indicator of the mother’s fertility and ability to retain the fetus.
As for EPDs, you can look at the sire’s potential for milk production and docility, data on which are now offered by most of the breeds.
You can also look at the dam’s udder to gauge how the heifer’s udder will develop – positively, for size, or negatively, for structural issues that could pose problems in an older cow. And in fescue country, Cole likes to see how the mother has performed.
“If she’s a regular calving female with a nice 12-month interval then she’s probably stood the test of time, but fescue and any other conditions that might cause that cow to not breed as regularly should be a consideration when selecting the heifer,” he said.
Dr. Tom Troxel, University of Arkansas Extension beef cattle specialist, said once the heifers have been selected, their performance should be monitored. They need to achieve at least 65 percent of their mature weight by first breeding, so they should be weighed at weaning and their target weight at breeding should be calculated.
“Once you’ve got that established, it’s very important to put together a nutritional program to help those heifers gain the weight you want them to gain,” Troxel told OFN. “You can work with your county agent and develop a feeding program with the hay or the forage that you have, and you might have to put together a little supplement program to help those heifers gain that Average Daily Gain that you want. “
You don’t want the heifers to gain too much and become overconditioned, nor too little; if they’re not at the proper weight, they won’t be exhibiting estrus cycles when you put the bull out. Continue weighing the heifers every 30 or 45 days to make sure your feeding program is on target; if it isn’t, adjust the feeding program to increase or reduce their ADGs.
Troxel said it’s an individual decision whether to raise your own replacements or to procure them.
“Many people would like to raise their own replacement heifers because genetically, you know what you’re getting; it’s also a biosecurity issue – they’re not buying any diseases or other people’s problems,” he said. “Other people, though, when they buy replacement heifers want to make a genetic change in their herd. Many people would rather buy bred heifers and pay a little bit more for them, but yet they’ve gotten over that long period of feeding replacement heifers and so they’re kind of ahead of the game, but they pay a price.”


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