The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is showing small cow-calf producers how using the latest reproductive research leads to larger profits.

The UF/IFAS Florida Heifer Development Program was developed by Kalyn Waters, UF/IFAS Extension Holmes County director, and Cliff Lamb, professor of animal sciences and assistant director of the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, Marianna.

Both Lamb and Waters saw a need for a program to help ranchers improve the productivity of their herds.

The success of any cow-calf operation depends on each cow producing one calf each year. When cows become unproductive due to age or other factors, they are replaced with heifers, female cattle who have not yet had their first calf, said Waters.

Waters explained that heifer development gets heifers ready to breed, and successful development depends on a heifer’s nutritional and reproductive management over her first two years of life.

Lamb’s team at NFREC has developed a system that makes heifer development more efficient. This system uses artificial insemination to impregnate heifers early in the breeding season, which allows them to have their calves earlier in the season.

All calves are sold on the same day of the year regardless of their birth date. When calves go to market, those born earlier in the calving season will weigh more than those born later, and since calves are sold by weight, earlier calves fetch a higher price, Waters noted.

According to Waters and Lamb, this increase in profitability is a strong incentive to use artificial insemination in cow-calf operations. There are long-term benefits as well. “When you develop your heifers properly, it really increases their longevity and productivity in the cowherd,” Waters said.

The UF/IFAS Florida Heifer Development Program lets smaller producers nominate their heifers for development at the NFREC. Smaller producers often do not have the resources and facilities to do effective heifer development, Waters said, so the program is meant to give producers more productive heifers and introduce producers to research-based development techniques.

The program will run between October 2016 and April 2017 and will include 100 heifers. According to Waters, current research predicts that 90 to 93 percent of the heifers will become pregnant.

Lamb hopes this program will allow producers to eventually adopt research-based development techniques. “The ultimate goal would be for folks to go, after a few years, ‘I think we can do this,’” he said.

This is only the first year of the program, and Waters and Lamb anticipate that it will grow and expand in years to come. “We are hoping that one day it will reach the level of the Florida Bull Test,” Waters said.