A producer’s future needs and goals must be part of the evaluation of retained heifers

Each year, most producers will retain some of their highest-quality young females to keep positive traits in the breeding program to replace older or cull cows.

Some of the criteria for choosing which heifers to retain will vary from herd to herd, based upon the breed and the producer’s goals, while other criteria are shared across the board.

Here’s some of the criteria suggested by the experts to see how your retained heifers are stacking up.

Producer Plans and Goals

“A producer first needs to have in mind what his future plans for those heifers will be,” Eldon Cole, livestock specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said. “Is (the producer) 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.”

He 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.”

Once the producer has evaluated their goals for retaining heifers, they can begin putting their heifers to the test, literally, to determine who makes the cut.

Many management steps and decisions must be made in the process of selecting and growing replacement heifers. Consequently, replacement heifers must pass a number of “production tests” to remain in the herd and, hopefully, become a member of the cow herd, Tom Troxel and Shane Gadberry, professors of animal science at the University of Arkansas, have said. Selection at weaning, development from weaning to first breeding, evaluation after first breeding and calving season and establishment of successful rebreeding are the “production tests” a heifer must pass. Heifers not meeting production targets should be culled at any point in the process.”

Heifer Weight

To expect a high percentage of replacement heifers to be cycling at the start of the fall breeding season – the recommended target is greater than 90 percent – the animals need to be at least 60 percent of their mature weight, advised Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension emeritus animal scientist and managing editor of the popular OSU Cow-Calf Corner newsletter.

“This means the young heifers must receive supplemental protein to continue to grow at the necessary pace of 1.5 pounds per head per day going into their first breeding season,” he said.

Qualities of Dam

Many producers lean towards a heifer raised by a cow that calves every 12 months, breeds early in the season, seems to tolerate their environment, is easy to handle and her calves consistently rank in the top half of the herd in dollars returned.

Dam traits to avoid when considering which heifers to retain from include heifers who were born to late calvers, heifers that came from cows that needed calving assistance or that had big teats, heifers from cows who weaned small calves, and heifers from cows that have nervous or poor temperament.


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