With decreasing cattle numbers across the country, quality replacement heifers are becoming more important than ever. "Replacement heifers give you the opportunity to improve the genetics in your operation," says Jaymelynn Farney, assistant professor and Extension livestock specialist at Kansas State University. "If you keep the same cow over and over, you're not making any genetic progress."
This year, KSU Extension is launching the Sunflower Supreme replacement heifer program in southeast Kansas. The goal is to provide producers "best management" guidelines for replacement heifers and provide education for the improvements in revenue, reproductive success, and longevity within their cattle operation. "Indirectly, it will help everybody with marketing," Farney notes. "They can put some thought into putting together sets of cattle that will be of interest for other people to buy."
Heifer program requirements
A big part of the program's requirements is health. This means proper vaccinations and timing of vaccinations as a calf, during or right before weaning, before breeding, and at the time of initial pregnancy check. A Bovine Viral Diarrhea Persistent Infection, BVD-PI test must also be completed, and only negative heifers can be enrolled. There are also certain guidelines to meet before breeding, including weight, body condition score, and a breeding soundness examination.
Bulls will be approved by a local extension agent based on Expected Progeny Differences, or EPD numbers for desirable traits, and accuracy requirements of those traits. Whether using artificial insemination or natural service sires, the breeding season can only be a total of 60 days.
A key part of the program's sire selection guidelines is minimizing calving difficulty. Eligible sires must have a known I.D. and be registered with their respective breed association, using official EPDs reported by the respective breed registry. "We're very concerned about trying to minimize calving difficulty," Farney notes. "We believe Calving Ease Direct is by far the best indicator of calving ease in first-calf heifers."