Feeder heifers can require special management
When raising beef cattle, producers might find themselves in a situation where not all heifers make the cut as replacements.
“Heifers not kept as replacements can be a source of additional income when sold as feeder heifers or even finished on farm and sold as locally-grown beef,” Dr. Shane Gadberry, ruminant nutrition specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, said.
If producers choose to go this route, they should bear in mind that the management of feeder heifers is somewhat different than their male counterparts.
One of the main differences in the management of feeder heifers is managing their heat cycles.
Heifers tend to begin cycling when they are between 600 to 800 pounds. In the western United States, some producers will spay feeder heifers to avoid heat cycles and prevent pregnancies while turned out during development, therefore reducing costs that go along with gestation, such as preg checks.
There are other costs associated with this method, of course. Spaying heifers costs between $4.50 to $6 per head, or more, and a recommended post procedure is that the heifers receive a hormone implant to facilitate adequate growth and weight gain.
Western producers who implement this practice typically have large herd numbers that make the costs of spaying worthwhile. According to Dr. Craig Payne, Extension Veterinarian with the University of Missouri Extension, spaying heifers is not a common practice in the Ozarks.
A more applicable management strategy in this area is estrus suppressing feed additives.
Dr. Eric Bailey, Beef Cattle Nutrition Extension Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said utilizing Melengesterol acetate (MGA) is successful and there is an increase in weight gain per day and feed efficiency when this product is fed.
The effect of MGA in mixed pens of steers and heifers was evaluated over a three-year period at the ISU Armstrong Research Farm in Iowa. Two pens of approximately 40 head were fed diets with or without MGA in each of three replications. Estrus and riding activity was monitored using the Heat Watch system.
At slaughter, in addition to routine carcass data collection, a rib sample was collected from each carcass for tenderness evaluation.
There was no effect on dry matter intake due to MGA treatment. Mixed-sex pens that were fed MGA were 4 percent more efficient than controls. MGA-fed steers gained similarly to control steers. MGA fed heifers gained 8 percent faster than control heifers. MGA highly reduced measures of estrus and riding activity throughout the feeding period. MGA feeding improved marbling and tenderness measured in both steers and heifers. These data suggest that MGA has potential to improve performance, quality grade and tenderness in mixed pens of steers and heifers.
To facilitate additional weight gain, Gadberry said, feeder heifers can be given growth promoting implants and that feeding ionophores like Bovatec and Rumensin (which do not require Veterinary Feed Directives) can improve weight gain on pasture, if that is the management system, and help prevent coccidiosis. He added that feeder heifers not be fed overly aggressively, as fleshly cattle are discounted at market.