Rebuilding the U.S. cow herd numbers takes more than keeping female offspring to breed.

Managing beef heifers is as important as using improved genetics in developing replacements, says David Patterson, University of Missouri.

As farmers save heifers to breed for increasing their cow herds, careful attention must be paid to pre-breeding care.

Patterson told Dent County beef producers how to improve calving success as heifers join the cow herd. He is beef reproduction specialist with MU Extension.

Beef farmers enrolled in the Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program have increased live births with calving-ease genetics. However, getting heifers pregnant takes long-term planning for nutrition and pre-breeding exams.

A major cause of failure to breed is lack of body development in weight and condition. Unseen is lack of developed reproductive tracts.

Looking at condition or weighing the heifers won’t tell you if they are ready to conceive, Patterson says.

Exams by a veterinarian six weeks ahead of breeding gives time to correct problems, Patterson told a Sept. 11 meeting of the Dent County Cattlemen’s Association.

If heifers are underweight or underdeveloped, more feed can help. “Starting early, corrections can be made before breeding,” Patterson says.

The unseen part is a low rank on a 5-point reproductive tract score. A score of 1 is for infantile ovaries. Scores of 4 or 5 shows heifers ready to cycle, or cycling.

Heifers scoring 1 should be pulled and sent to a feedlot. “The 1s will never catch up,” Patterson said.

Pre-breeding management, including adequate feed, improves success in building a cow herd.

The U.S. cow herd has been in decline for six decades. That drop increased with severe drought in western ranching states.

With short supply, beef prices set new record highs almost every week. “The demand is there,” Patterson said. “The incentives are there, not only for more beef, but more quality beef.”

While taking care of management, producers must not neglect genetics. Future profits will be for quality beef, not just commodity beef.

With a shift to selling on premium grids, higher prices are paid for cattle that grade USDA choice. Bigger premiums are paid for cattle grading prime.

Genetics largely determines prime grade in carcasses. Selecting sires with high scores on carcass quality helps.

On a national average, only 3 percent of all carcasses grade prime. However, Patterson showed results of his research at the MU Thompson Research Center at Spickard. That farm, a part of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, provided basic research for the Show-Me-Select heifer program.

Thompson Farm steers sent to feedlots grade 30 percent prime.

Those MU steers top the market grid. They not only draw prime premiums, but also CAB (Certified Angus Beef) premiums as well.

“Our Thompson Farm advisory board insisted we stay with Angus breeding in the commercial cow herd,” Patterson said. “Angus represents most of the cow herds in north Missouri.”

Patterson used a two-page handout to describe management and breeding protocols for developing heifers.

“There are lots of heifers being kept to build the cow herd,” Patterson said. “Management can help make them a success. Genetics can improve their quality.”