Developing Replacement Heifers

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Developing replacement heifers that are sound, durable, and efficient additions to the cow herd is important to the viability of a beef producer. Whether purchased, or home grown, replacement heifers are a necessary expense to the cattlemen and should be developed properly to insure long term success.

Producers should first be sure to get heifers to the target weight before breeding. This is generally recognized as 65% of their mature weight. So for a producer with a 1350 lb. average mature cow size, a heifer should weigh in at around 850-875 lbs. This shocks some producers, but as average cow size has increased, target weights have gone up in relation to these increases. This means heifers that are 650 lbs. at weaning, need to gain around 225 lbs. by breeding date. These heifers will need to gain around 1lb a day from weaning to the beginning of the breeding season to reach the target weight. These gains can be accomplished through a consistent nutrition program and can be accomplished without high energy feeds. Keep average daily gains steady and consistent and avoid pushing heifers early and then backing off during winter when feed resources are more scarce. If creep feeding through weaning, try to continue on the same plane of nutrition through breeding. There is some research that shows that heifers roughed through their first winter and then fed on a rising plane of nutrition up to the breeding season show little production differences than those fed throughout their development and there is more than one way to skin a cat. But for the average producer, keep weight gains steady and on a rising nutritional plane through breeding to insure good conception rates and greater lifetime production. Producers can utilize feeds with ionophores such as Rumensin or Bovatec in the diet to maximize weight gain and reach maturity earlier. Keep up a good mineral program for developing heifers, making it available at all times, to support their development.

While producers certainly don’t want to under-develop heifers, they should also avoid overdeveloping them as well. Over weight heifers don’t perform well and excess fat deposited in the mammary gland can lead to low milk production and obese heifers can be prone to more calving difficulties.

Producers should avoid implanting heifers they raise, or buying heifers that have received implants. Just don’t take the risk. Keep good records on your heifers, taking time to eartag or tattoo them so you can document their development accurately. Vaccinate them according to your program and time the vaccinations to give a pre-breeding booster. It is a good idea to work with your veterinarian to develop a comprehensive herd health program, not just for your heifers, but your entire herd. Last but not least, keep those replacement heifers away from any bull calves present, to avoid any pregnancy risk before the breeding season. Heifers bred too early rarely reach their full potential as replacements, as they are behind from the start.

By implementing these fundamental elements of heifer development in your operation, you can increase the odds of your heifers being successful, productive cows that yield greater returns on your investment.