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envato.com, by wirestock

There are many factors to consider when raising or buying dairy replacements 

The historically low cattle inventory across the nation has some cattle producers looking to do business a bit differently than years past. Decisions on developing replacement females may seem more critical than ever for some operations. Producers in the dairy industry have many factors to consider when it comes to raising or buying replacement heifers. 

Make Early Decisions 

Dairy extension specialists encourage producers to thoroughly evaluate each cow in their herd before making any breeding decisions about replacement females. 

“We need to pause and think, first and foremost, before that heifer is ever generated – does that cow need to be bred to a Holstein or to a dairy breed? And that starts 280 days before anything else,” Reagan Bluel, Missouri Dairy Educational Director, and dairy specialist with the University of Missouri Extension, said. 

Prior to breeding season, dairy specialists advise producers to evaluate each cow to determine if she should produce a replacement or if she should remain in the herd but not contribute to the future genetics of the operation. Many dairy operations manage their herds in such a way that they only produce the number of dairy heifers they need to freshen their herd. 

A few questions producers may want to consider include: Do they have the right number of heifers to perpetuate their herd based on cull rates and other factors? Are the replacements coming from ideal candidates to make gains in the genetic improvement of the herd?

Dairy producers who are thoughtful and strategic regarding the number of dairy replacement females they produce, may see a positive impact on their bottom line. 

“What we have learned, especially over these past few years, is that heifer inventory can really make or break a farm’s financial status,” Bluel said. 

 Look at the Numbers 

Dairy specialists encourage producers to crunch the numbers when determining whether to buy replacement heifers instead of developing their own. “Occasionally you can work out a contract with heifer rearers that will make that number more palatable. If you know what that cost is going to be and you can pencil it and it is okay, then perhaps that is the direction you want to go,” Bluel stated. 

Another option is to diversify cash flow through producing dairy/beef cross calves. Dairy producers can diversify their income and possibly positively impact their bottom line by breeding some of their cows to beef bulls. “Those calves are so valuable that you could potentially cash flow a contractual agreement to purchase in all of your dairy replacements and still be net ahead. But if you are not setting up those contracts and making sure, and you are just relying on the open market there are a lot of spots where you could be blindsided by this very strange marketplace,” Bluel shared. 

Market for Replacements

Currently, there is a strong market for replacement females. The market should remain favorable moving forward because the cattle market is at a historical low nationally. Additionally, since there are dairy producers who purchase some or all of their replacements, there is consistently a market for dairy replacement females. 

Keep Heifers on Track

When producers are developing replacement females it is important to properly manage their nutrition. Dairy extension specialists recommend producers start an adequate nutrition plan early on for replacement heifers to ensure they are growing aggressively enough to hit reproduction milestones. “There is a lot of preplanning to make sure they have the body size they need to be successful going forward,” Bluel said. Extension specialists and cattle nutrition experts are good resources for advice on putting together nutrition plans.


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