The beef cattle industry is experiencing the lowest cow numbers since the early 1950’s.  The 2011 calf crop was the lowest since 1950 and 2012’s calf crop is projected to be 1.9 percent smaller.  Currently feeder cattle and calf supply outside feedlots is down 2 million head compared to two years ago.  The current calf and feeder numbers create an alternative market opportunity for cow-calf producers for replacement heifers and bred heifers.  With the limited feeder cattle supply over the next three to five years, several factors will increase the value of heifers. 

The feeding segment of the industry will be competing for heifers as cow-calf producers rebuild or expand their herds from the southern plains to the north.  CattleFax projects the price for bred cows will increase by 25 percent in 2012.  The opportunity and timing is ideal for cow-calf producers to take advantage of this premium market.  Adding value to replacement heifers and bred heifers through a structured management and marketing program can provide potential buyers a source of females of known production practices and genetics.

To help Wyoming producers interested in participating in this marketing opportunity, the University of Wyoming’s Department of Animal Science and the Wyoming Business Council’s Agribusiness Division have developed the Wyoming Premium Heifer Program.  The objective of this program is to develop and market a source of quality commercial replacement heifer calves and bred heifers that are produced and managed under a set of standard guidelines to meet the requirements of producers nationally.  This key element of the program will be met through the verification of procedures through documentation provided by participating producers.  This will assure buyers across the country that the certified animals are managed, raised, and bred as outlined in the program.  Many producers in Wyoming are currently using these management practices with their heifers and would qualify.  The program, cattle listings, and special sales will be promoted and marketed through industry publications and convention trade shows across the country.

There is an annual $25 ranch enrollment fee and a $3 per head enrollment fee which includes the cost of the official program tag.  However, as a promotion for the first year of the program the $25 annual enrollment fee will be waived for 2012 only to encourage producers interested to participate.  The membership application must be submitted by June 1st for enrollment of bred heifers, and by September 1st for replacement heifer calves.  The program will have several special internet video sales starting in December with additional one or two sales after the first of the year.  The sales will be managed and conducted by participating Wyoming auction markets.  The program’s sales and listings will be promoted nationally, especially in those areas where rebuilding and expansion will be taking place from the southern plains to the midwest and west. 

Heifers certified in the program will also be listed online at The Wyoming Beef Cattle List with consigned sale date and specifications.  The program guidelines, application, and marketing form can be downloaded from the Web site.

The Wyoming Premium Heifer Program has two levels of management protocols, Brown 1 and Gold 2.  Producers will be required to be Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) certified.  To be certified Brown 1, all heifers must have received Brucellosis (Bangs) vaccinations in accordance with state and federal laws.  Additionally, heifers must be vaccinated and given booster vaccinations for IBR, BVD, PI 3, BRSV, leptospirosis (5 way), vibriosis and 7-way clostridia at weaning with a modified live vaccine.  For bred heifers booster vaccinations against leptospirosis (5-way) and vibriosis need to  be administered between 30-60 prior to breeding.  Heifers must not have been exposed to a bull for more than 60 days.

To be certified for Gold 2, heifers must meet all of the Brown 1 requirements, be tested for BVD-PI, and are AI bred to qualifying known sires.  Sires must have a direct calving ease in the top 25% of the breed.  Heifers that are bred artificially must not be exposed to a clean up bull for 15 days post-AI.  The total breeding season is not to exceed 45 days (including the 15 day post-AI period).

The next few years will see a very high demand on heifers from several segments of the industry creating a great marketing opportunity for cow-calf producers in the state.  The Wyoming Premium Heifer Program will provide the ability for producers to create and capture that added value sought by buyers across the country.

For more information contact Dr. Scott Lake, Beef Cattle Extension Specialist, University of Wyoming Department of Animal Science, 307-766-3892,, or John Henn, Livestock & Meat Marketing Program Manager, Wyoming Business Council Agribusiness Division, 307-777-2847,