Several years of herd liquidation, compounded by severe drought, make replacement heifers a valuable commodity as ranchers seek to add numbers, says Mississippi State University Extension beef cattle specialist Brandi Bourg, PhD. Bourg notes the decision to buy or raise replacement heifers can be complicated, and ranchers should consider financial and management implications carefully. Every operation has different goals, ranging from genetic improvement to improved efficiency of the operation. Producers should consider resources involved in raising heifers, including labor, land and management. Many smaller operations, she says, do not have the resources to cost-effectively raise replacement heifers and manage their development separately from the cow herd. They also need to consider financial factors such as interest rate, cash flow needs, labor costs, reproductive rates, additional feed costs and the value of heifers sold as weaned calves.
Bourg also points out that purchased replacement heifers can provide a way to quickly introduce higher performing genetics into the herd. When deciding to purchase heifers, producers first need to determine their genetic priorities and identify a source of replacements with similar goals. Genetic markers and EPDs can shed light on the genetic potential of a young animal, she says. Breed type is also an important consideration when determining a source for replacement heifers. Bourg advocates purchasing crossbred females, saying a crossbred cow allows an operation to take advantage of improved reproductive efficiency and increased growth through hybrid vigor. Other criteria for purchasing heifers should include:
Location — Heifers are typically best adapted to the environment in which they were raised and may not perform to their full potential in drastically different environments. Temperament — This trait, Bourg says, has been shown to be heritable. If a heifer is high strung, it is likely that her calves will be high strung as well.
For more information on heifer development and other topics related to herd expansion, visit MoreCowsNow.com.