In the cow/calf business, replacement heifers play a vital role in the success and continuation of a producer’s herd.
According to the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, acquiring or raising high-quality replacement heifers is an essential and major investment for the cow-calf producer. The replacement heifer becomes the genetic building block for the cow herd. The producer hopes that a replacement heifer will become a fertile cow that produces a calf, annually, for a long time.
When it comes time to pick out heifers to replenish the herd, producers should select the girls that best fit their needs for their operation.
“A producer first needs to have a plan for what his future plans for those heifers will be,” said Eldon Cole, Livestock Specialist for the University of Missouri Extension. “Is he/she a purebred seedstock producer? Does he/she just grow calves to weaning age then sell them as feeder calves? Will he/she ever retain ownership all the way to the packer? These all need to be factored in the selection process.”
Cole also advised that producers should “keep the customer in mind as the heifers will develop into cows that need to produce calves that satisfy your customers’ plans and wishes.”
After you have determined your specific production goals for your herd, what should producers be looking for in potential replacements? Many producers “lean towards a heifer raised by a cow that calves every 12 months, breeds early in the season, seems to tolerate your environment, is easy to handle and her calves consistently rank in the top one-half of your herd in dollars returned, whether they’re sold as breeding stock, feeder calves or beef hung on the rail,” said Cole.
Things to avoid when seeking out replacements, according to Dr. Jim Gosey, Beef Specialist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, include heifers who were born late in the season, came from cows that needed calving assistance or that had big teats, heifers who were exceptionally small at weaning time, and heifers who have nervous or poor temperament.
Size is also a consideration when selecting replacement heifers. “The biggest heifers may be the oldest, which can be an asset come breeding time from a puberty standpoint,” said Cole. “But if you’re satisfied with the mature size of your cow herd, then selecting heifers from the middle of the herd on frame and growth would seem logical.”
Researching any and all available data on the herd your heifers come from will be able to help you make appropriate decisions. Utilizing programs such as the Show-Me Select Heifer program (Missouri) or the Cow Herd Performance Testing program (Arkansas), can help the producer gather necessary data.