The Cow-less Cow Herd
First data from all-heifer production model shared.
by Kasey Brown, senior associate editor
DES MOINES, Iowa (Sept. 8, 2016) — The future of the beef industry may be a result of some out-of-the-box thinking and advacements in technology. George Seidel, researcher at the Animal Reproduction and Biotechnology Laboratory at Colorado State University, is a well-known pioneer in the beef cattle reproductive sphere, and he’s come up with an unconventional beef production model that only involves heifers, no cows.
He spoke at the 2016 Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, Sept. 7-8, 2016.
Seidel explained only about 30% of feed nutrients used by the entire beef production system go toward growing and finishing young animals destined for slaughter, with 70% of all feed consumed by the cow-calf herd. About 70% of those nutrients go toward cow maintenance. Therefore, about half of all feed in the system is used to maintain the mature cow herd.
His system includes the use of sexed semen used to produce females so each first-calf heifer replaces herself with another heifer calf. Each bred heifer’s first calf would also be her last, because after their calves are weaned early at about 3 months of age, the young dams go to a feedyard. The objective is to have the heifers finished and ready for harvest at about 30 months of age.
Seidel said his “All Heifer-No Cows” (AHNC) system would not be economically viable unless the carcasses of the 28- to 30-month-old heifers could be marketed for similar value as other finished cattle. Typically, heifer performance is slightly less efficient than steers, but use of growth technology could compensate for some of the difference.
He shared the first data of selling two groups of these first-calf females. They were bred by artificial insemination (AI) in 2013 and 2014, and sold to the packing plant in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Their carcass quality was high. Of 45 sold, three reached Prime, 42 reached Choice and only one earned Select. All the females earned Yield Grade 1-3.
He shared some lessons from this first round of data. The pairs in the feedlot taught the other calves to eat, and there were synergies with the conventional cow-calf herd. However, despite having actual birthdate data, packers gave discounts on age due to ossification of bones from pregnancy, and he lamented that packers will discount carcasses whenever possible.
“It was difficult to get more than 70% of the heifers to replace themselves,” he admitted. Even with using sexed semen, 10% were born male, and sexed semen resulted in lower fertility as a whole. By needing to use a clean-up bull, even more males were born, and some females were pregnant too late to fit the marketing program. However, these steer calves and late-pregnant heifers provided nice income, he added.
There are alternatives to marketing 2-year-old heifers as finished animals, however. These include marketing bred heifers or selling pairs after calving. Seidel sees marketing flexibility and the ability to enter and exit the program at many life-stage points, as feed and cattle prices dictate, as advantages of the AHNC model.
“If the system worked perfectly, it would be entirely self-sustaining. It is not,” admitted Seidel. “However, the AHNC system could be 75% to 80% self-sustaining, thus requiring only a small percentage of heifers from outside of the system to be added each year.”
Seidel spoke during Thursday’s ARSBC session focusing on the future. Visit the Newsroom at www.appliedreprostrategies.com, which features comprehensive coverage of the symposium, to view his PowerPoint, read the proceedings or listen to the presentation. Compiled by the Angus Media editorial team, the site is made possible through sponsorship by the Beef Reproduction Task Force.
Editor's Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of Angus Media. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270.