With the cow herd at its lowest level since 1973, drought in the southern range states, and optimism for increased export demand, the stage is set for heifer retention increases into the next few years.
High feed prices and high land prices may slow this expansion, but many analysts predict growth in the beef industry in the next five years. Genetic improvements in beef quality, marbling, and feed efficiency make today’s replacement heifers even more valuable than in the past.
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach beef specialists are designing a heifer development program focused on currently available technologies and management to increase the productivity and longevity of heifers.
Several technologies can help improve the success and control the costs of developing replacement beef heifers. Here are a few now available to help you produce high quality, consistent replacement heifers.
- Estrus synchronization improves time management by concentrating the breeding and calving periods of heifers. Less time is spent observing heifers for heat detection. Calving occurs over a shorter period of time resulting in more uniform calves that are typically older and heavier at weaning.
- Fixed time AI reduces the time needed for estrus detection and allows for more efficient use of labor for breeding. In general, AI reduces the number of cleanup bulls needed and allows for the use of higher accuracy EPD bulls. Years of calving ease studies have shown that proven AI sires with high accuracy EPDs for calving ease and low birth weight can greatly reduce heifer calving difficulty compared to natural service to young, low accuracy bulls.
- DNA markers are being used to add data to performance based EPDs, increasing accuracy for AI sires. Ultrasound has been used for years to measure carcass traits in live cattle but more recently has been adopted for use in pregnancy detection, and more specifically to determine the age and sex of the fetus.
- Ultrasound exams can determine pregnancy as early as a month after breeding, allowing for open heifers to be rebred, or moved on to the feedlot with very little lost time. The age of the fetus can aid in determining if the calf was sired by the AI bull or the clean-up bull.
These technologies have changed the process of developing replacement heifers to a very scientifically controlled process, significantly increasing the odds for successful pregnancies.
You're invited to learn more about using these technologies to develop replacement heifers at one of the heifer development programs. Information on program locations, dates, times and specific session content will be available soon on the Iowa Beef Center website www.iowabeefcenter.org.
Source: Denise Schwab, ISU Extension beef program specialist