Vet Talk: Heifer Replacement

By Dr. Coover and Dr. Neely, published June 20, 2016

A recent article was published by an extension service about replacement heifer production and selection. It stated“reproductive performance has five times more impact than carcass traits on profitability.”

This statement holds true for cow?calf producers that sell their calves at weaning. For these producers, much more selection pressure should be placed on superior reproductive traits such as longevity, calving ease, docility, milk, growth, and maternal traits. Other traits such as color, polled/horned, heterosis or cross breeding should also be considered.

Since many of these traits are lowly heritable, or they don't have useful EPDs, sire selection is a useful tool. For example, selecting for extremesin growth, frame score, and milk will results in cows that are too big with nutritional input requirements that are too high for forage alone. This will result in a pasture full of hard doing, reproductively poor, money-sucking cows that won't be profitable. Most economic analyses suggest it take a cow 6 years of production to pay off her development cost and opportunity cost as a yearling heifer.

When selecting heifers from your herd, select replacements born from cows that have been in herd for some time and have been reproductively successful and useful in your environment, under your management. They should have calved yearly producing attractive, profitable calves born early in the season.

Be aware that extremes related to your herd cost you money. Select balanced, modest sized, efficient animals with middle of the road genetics. The heifer you select today should fit the mold of the cow that will consistently produce calves and breed back every year in your operation.

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