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Heifer Development Systems

Development of replacement heifers should prepare them for life as cows.

by Kasey Brown, senior associate editor

Rick Funston, reproductive physiologist at the University of Nebraska.

DES MOINES, Iowa (Sept. 7, 2016) — “By simply increasing the number of progeny per dam, we will increase efficiency of production,” said Rick Funston, reproductive physiologist at the University of Nebraska. As the nation’s cow herd regrows and replacement heifers start making their mark in the herd, cattlemen need to be cognizant of efficient development of those heifers.

He offered some development strategies to attendees of the 2016 Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle symposium in Des Moines, Iowa, Sept. 7-8, 2016.

Whether buying or raising replacement heifers, he suggested seven tips on selection.

  1. 1. Cull daughters of “bad mark” cows, meaning those that needed help calving, calved late, failed to wean a calf, have big teats or needed help nursing, weaned a lightweight calf and have attitude problems.
  2. 2. Cull heifers that are light weight, had big birth weights or frame scores of 6.
  3. 3. Cull the youngest, meaning those born 45 days after the start of the calving season.
  4. 4. Select daughters of the oldest cows.
  5. 5. Select for optimum, not maximum, pregnancy rates.
  6. 6. Select females with pigmented eyes and udder.
  7. 7. Select females with appropriate conformation, suggesting depth of rib, chest width and guts.

For those developing their own replacement heifers, he prefers low-cost, forage-based systems over pushing females too fast and too far in confinement, fervently opining that heifers should not be required to gain 3 to 4 pounds (lb.) per day. The goal of developing replacement heifers is to create functional cows, so Funston believes they should be developed in a similar environment required of cows.

He spoke about research in which heifers are developed on cornstalks, which are an underused resource in many grain-producing states. Additionally, corn residues are similar to low-quality forages that mature cows are fed in winter in other states. He reported that heifers can gain no more than 1.5 lb. per day in the winter and will show enough compensatory gain for the breeding season once higher-quality feed resources become available.

Funston recommended targeting 55% of mature weight for heifer development, and said that his research team has achieved up to 86% success with artificial insemination with these lighter heifers.

He added that this type of heifer development lowered costs by more than $100, and selling open heifers was profitable. It also determined the most adaptable heifers earlier, but he granted that they must continue growing through calving.

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.