Every year, cow-calf producers make decisions to either buy or keep heifers for the purpose of replacing older or unproductive cull cows.
The number of heifers retained or bought can fluctuate based on things such as drought or market prices of feeder cattle and feed commodities, but usually averages around 15-20% of the total herd.
The main purpose of replacement heifers is to eliminate thinner cows that are no longer getting bred in a timely fashion and interchange them with younger, more productive females that can generate greater profits over a longer period of time.
Selection of replacements should fall right in line with specific goals of an operation. Replacement females should not be selected on one trait such as a specific phenotype. Similar to selecting sires, producers should optimize balance and not attempt to maximize specific traits in females.
Most times when a single, specific phenotype is desired and bred for over multiple generations, it ends up causing unintended consequences. For example, if a producer selects for high milk production, it will cause an increase in nutrient requirements prompting a higher feed bill. For every positive action there is an associative negative action, so be sure to not “put all your eggs in one basket” per se.
There are numerous mindsets when it comes to selecting replacement heifers, but a few things that should be considered in all scenarios include:
• Select for low input heifers who possess traits associated with longevity.
• Evaluate reproductive tract scores. Work with a veterinarian to identify heifers that have narrow pelvises and might have difficulty calving.
• Select heifers that are older and quicker to reach puberty not just, bigger. Heifers that are born early from the first cycle puts greater emphasis on inherited fertility while allowing for a tight calving interval.
• Evaluate feet and leg structure and overall conformation. Any problems observed as weanling will only be exacerbated with age and size.
Connor Biehler is a Beef Systems Assistant Extension Educator at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Eastern Nebraska Research & Extension Center. Reach him at 402-624-8007, 402-413-8557 or follow his Twitter page @BigRedBeefTalk for more information on Nebraska Beef Extension.