KINGSVILLE, Mo. - The bred-heifer sale started strong, with the first two lots of four head each selling for an average of $2,000.

These were the first of 197 head of Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifers sold for an average of $1,670, Nov. 26. It was the annual fall sale at Kingsville Livestock Auction, one of four across the state.

The heifers were consigned by Crooks Farm of Leeton, Mo., part of the farm's total consignment of 49 head of mostly Simmental-cross heifers that averaged $1,904. The first two lots were bought by Scott Brownsberger, Appleton City. He bought seven more for the same price later in the sale.

Crooks Farm has consigned heifers to all 13 sales since the first one, said David Hoffman, sale coordinator and University of Missouri Extension livestock specialist, Harrisonville, Mo. The farm is operated by Alvin and Doug Crooks and Howard Early.

Highest average price for one consignor was $1,950 for two lots of two heifers each from Gregory Polled Herefords, Houstonia, Mo. They were red white-face heifers bred to a Red Angus bull.

Of all consigned heifers, 112 were bred by artificial insemination and 81 were bred natural service. All sires met the sale requirements on expected progeny differences (EPDs).

The AI-bred heifers averaged $148 more than natural-service heifers.

"Use of AI allows selection of sires with higher proven accuracy," said David Patterson, MU Extension beef reproduction specialist. Patterson brought the idea of the Show-Me-Select program to Missouri in 1996. The first sale at Kingsville was in 1999.

The program was run as a pilot program in Joplin and Palmyra in 1997 and has now spread statewide. The program is a year-round educational program that aims to reduce death loss of both calves and heifers calving for the first time. All of the heifers are bred to calving-ease sires.

Buyer surveys show heifers need less assistance at calving time, Hoffman said.

The return of satisfied buyers helps build the sale price average, Patterson said. Not only do the heifers have less calving difficulty, they also come with a predicted calving date, especially with timed AI.

Buyers are urged to start watch on the heifers about two weeks ahead of that predicted date. Calving-ease EPDs often result in early calves.

As part of the management, heifers are examined for reproductive tract scores and measured for pelvic size before breeding season. The heifers are pregnancy-checked by veterinarians at least twice, the last within 30 days of the sale.

All are sold guaranteed to be pregnant for 30 days after the sale.

Buyers surveyed have indicated that buying SMS bred heifers is one way to more quickly improve the genetic base of their cow herds.

Most of the SMS heifers go back into the home herds to improve quality and profitability.

In all, 16 consignors sold heifers at Kingsville.

One trend in all of the sales is that average prices go up for most of the longtime consignors. They improve their cow herds and build reputations with buyers over time.

All calves are inspected on arrival at the sale barn by graders from the Missouri Department of Agriculture. All must meet sale requirements on muscling, frame and weight, and be blemish-free. All carry the trademarked Show-Me-Select ear tags.

Two more fall sales will be held in the next two weeks. They are at Fruitland (Mo.) Livestock Auction, 1 p.m., Dec. 3; and at F&T Livestock Market, Palmyra, Mo., 12:30 p.m., Dec. 10.

"We expect increased enrollment during the January sign-up period," Patterson said. Higher heifer prices and the strong price outlook for fed cattle have increased interest in the quality-cattle program.

Enrollment information can be obtained from regional livestock specialists at county MU Extension Centers.