Management practices for the care and breeding of heifers

Last spring’s heifer calves are fast approaching their first breeding season. As producers work to develop and manage replacement females there are a few things to keep in mind. First, growing heifers from calf to cow takes time, money, and discipline. “Heifer development is expensive and sets the stage for the rest of the cow’s lifetime production,” Paul Beck, Ph.D., extension beef cattle nutritionist with Oklahoma State University, said.

In addition, proper heifer development is important in maintaining the genetics of a herd. “Do not cut corners, it will lead to a long depressing calving season,” Beck added. “Developing your own replacements is also not for everyone, if you do not have the right genetics or the right facilities, you are better off buying replacements from others that do.”

Fertility in Genetics

Producers planning to raise replacements should focus on utilizing the genetics of heifer calves born first in their calving season. “Older heifers, those born earlier in the calving season, are associated with higher fertility, because heifers that breed early in the breeding season are more fertile and will calve early in their first calving season and then tend to breed and calve early in subsequent years,” Beck explained. The genetics for fertility are passed on to their offspring.

Monitor Body Condition 

Producers raising replacement females should monitor the heifer’s body condition closely. The heifers need to be developed to gain bodyweight without putting on too much condition. “The rule of thumb I prefer is we want to breed heifers at 65 percent of their mature bodyweight and calve when they reach 75 percent of their bodyweight,” Beck said. “Heifers that are born early in the calving season are usually bigger at weaning and performance does not have to be as high to reach these benchmarks.”

Additionally, livestock extension specialists recommend producers calve heifers in a body condition score of six. Calving requires significant energy and thin heifers may wear out before the calving process is complete. A proper body condition also benefits the female post-calving. Producers should keep in mind that the repair of the reproduction tract and continued growth are important for rebreeding, so thin heifers are harder to get back into shape before rebreeding.

Utilize Visual Appraisal

Though there are now genetic tools that producers can utilize to help them select the heifers that will make the best cows, livestock extension specialists say nothing replaces visual appraisal for selecting the right type of female that will fit in the cowherd and remain functional. “Feet and legs and teat shape and placement are seemingly small details but are important for longevity of the cow,” Beck stated. 

Consider Environment

Another factor producers may want to keep in mind when choosing replacement heifers is the location of the cattle operation. Females that fit well in one environment with its forages and weather patterns, may not thrive somewhere else. “When selecting replacement heifers, mature size and milk production are tied to forage intake and nutrient requirements,” Beck added. “Consider the environment your ranch is in when selecting replacements for cows in your herd.” 

Vet Check 

Scheduling a visit from the herd veterinarian to check heifers’ pelvic areas and determine reproductive tract scores (RTS) provides producers with additional information on a heifer’s breeding and calving ability. Experts recommend heifers be checked prior to breeding to ensure they are developing and have an adequate pelvic area. 

 Additionally, producers can utilize RTS prior to breeding to assess fertility and cycling activity. “Heifers with low scores (RTS 1 or 2) are less likely to be cycling before the breeding season and are thus not likely to breed early in the season and are more likely to remain open,” Beck explained.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here