Developing replacement heifers is a long and costly process that can potentially become even more expensive if heifers must be culled from the herd for various reasons. This makes it vital to ensure any work put into developing heifers provides them with longevity to remain productive in the herd for years to come.
Often, producers have invested so much in heifers through parturition of their first calf, they decide to back off on development post-calving, setting them up for failure to get bred again. Since heifers are still growing at this stage themselves, it is paramount to not get behind on meeting nutrient requirements through the lactational phase.
On the other end of the spectrum, heifers should not be over fed to the point of over-depositing fat in their mammary system, as this will later impair milk production. Developing heifers to maintain an average daily gain of about 1-1.5 pounds should be adequate to allow proper growth without wasting feed and adding too much condition.
If purchasing heifers, attempt to learn their vaccination history. If this information is unavailable be sure to administer a modified live viral vaccination no less than 30 days prior to breeding or go the safer route by using a “killed” vaccine. The response to an adequate vaccination protocol is enhanced in cattle that are in appropriate body condition and on a sufficient mineral program.
The postpartum interval to first estrus is longer in first-calf heifers than mature cows. Setting heifers up to calve a few weeks before the rest of the older cow herd reduces the risk of reproductive failure leading up to their second breeding season.
After the heifers have calved, do not take your foot off the gas and let them coast through lactation. Continue to provide them with the necessities that will allow them to remain successful.
Take care of heifers in breed back phase. If not all the hard work and monetary value associated with developing heifers is washed away if she cannot get bred and must be culled. You do not want to have to play “catch up” to add condition as this is costly and negatively impacts the next generation.
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.