Replacement Heifer Selection at Weaning

Farm Journal logo

Now that calves are weaned and pregnancy checks are occurring, it's time cattle producers begin thinking about selecting replacement heifers to breed in the spring, explained Taylor Grussing, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.

"Due to the differences in goals and needs between operations, there is no one-size-fits-all selection equation that producers can follow," Grussing said. "However, there are some common characteristics and questions that all producers should consider to help them select replacement heifers strategically and not at random."

Grussing outlines these below.

Select heifers born early in the calving season that will reach puberty and first estrus before their younger herd mates. "These females are then also more likely to become bred and calve earlier in subsequent years, consistently weaning more pounds and being more profitable than later calving counterparts," Grussing said.

"Replacement heifers should contain the best genetics in your herd," Grussing said.

She said the best way to begin when selecting these high quality genetics is by analyzing the genetics of herd sire and dam.

Scrotal circumference (SC) of the sire is associated with when his daughters reach puberty, as there is a moderate negative correlation between larger SC and earlier attainment of puberty.

On the dam side disposition, calving ease, udder quality and milking ability are important parameters that should be analyzed. "By selecting heifers from cows that are easy to care for and can take care of their calves, you will also select for longevity and see her daughters and granddaughters being retained in consecutive years," Grussing said.

While it is important for some weight be placed on phenotype, Grussing said it should not be where the most focus is placed during heifer selection. "But while we are looking, we want to strive for selecting structurally correct females that can get around the pasture to graze," she said.

Heavy structured and large footed females, with a more correct angle to their shoulder and hock will rise to the top.

Heifer size
Size of the heifer is also important to consider. What will be her mature size and maintenance cost? Does your operation have the resources and environment to support her? "In this case, if the older females being selected are also larger, they may require more input to be maintained in the herd than smaller framed counterparts," Grussing said. "However, small females can be very inefficient also."

Having a good balance between the heifer's phenotype, weight per day of age, as well as the cows mature size is important for profitability and efficiency of the cow herd.

Are you maintaining or expanding the size of your cow herd?
Grussing said, the way a cattle producer answers this question will help them decide how many replacement heifers should be kept. "If the size of the cow herd is to be maintained, the culling rate should equal the replacement rate right? Not necessarily," she said. "No matter if you are maintaining or expanding your herd, it is best to keep 10 - 15 percent more replacement heifers than actually needed, to account for the 5 - 10 percent of females that will be late bred or never become pregnant at all."

This way Grussing said cattle producers will have enough to replace culled females, as well as extras to expand the herd or be marketed. "In addition, if more females become pregnant than you need, you can increase selection pressure on which females have the best genetics to add to the cow herd," she said.

How will I develop them?
Replacement heifers are one of the most important management groups in the herd and it can be a costly investment to develop heifers that won't provide returns for two years.

Therefore, cattle producers need to make sure they have the resources and management to develop them correctly. "This is vital to attaining genetic progress in your herd," Grussing said.

When resources are limited to develop heifers, custom heifer development companies are available to complete the development for a cost. 

Source: SDSU Extension


Latest News

Program Helps Give Calves A Healthy Edge

Purina Animal Nutrition introduces Purina® Plus, an innovative feeder calf program, which aims to help cattle producers supply high-value, low-risk feeder calves to the marketplace.

Adding Up Pennies

The “Discovering True Carcass Value Webinar” sponsored by Certified Angus Beef will explore cutout values and how CAB carcasses add value beyond Choice.

Rana Creek Ranch
Glenn Selk: Riding Off Into The Sunset

Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist Glenn Selk announces he is handing over publication of future Cow-Calf Newsletters to other OSU beef specialists.

Gearhart Ranch
NCBA Delivers State of the Industry Address

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association spokesmen gave an update on the state of the industry and priority issues in Washington, D.C. that may affect cattlemen during the group’s virtual Winter Reboot conference.

Pilgrim’s Pride Agrees To Price-Fixing Fine

Pilgrim's Pride, the nation's second-largest poultry processor, entered a guilty plea to federal charges of price-fixing and bid-rigging, the Department of Justice said on Tuesday.

Setting Expectations Smooths the Path for Succession Planning with Off-Farm Heirs

At this year’s Top Producer Online Summit, Rena Striegel shared her key tips to make this transition easier for all involved.