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Choose right heifer to boost bottom line

The selection of replacement heifers is one of the most critical decisions a beef producer must make. The selections a producer makes will influence the productivity of the beef herd for many years. The high cost of developing replacement heifers makes it vital to select heifers that have the highest probability of developing into productive cows. Producers should select potential heifers at weaning and then make a final decision at breeding time.

There are many factors to consider when selecting replacement heifers. First, a decision needs to be made regarding breed. Will the heifers be capable of producing the breed composition of the calves to be produced? If the heifers in your herd will not meet these criteria, look elsewhere.

Key Points

• Those replacement heifers will be with you for many years.

• Put them through a rigorous selection process.

• Manage them for their reproductive possibilities.


Next decide what size cows you will need. If the size of the cow herd has gradually gotten larger, then you may need to select more moderate-frame heifers.

Utilize available records to determine which heifers are potential replacements. Heifers with the potential to grow can be selected without just looking at age (older heifers are generally larger). Select heifers born during the first third of the calving season. These heifers will be from the most reproductively efficient cows.

Disposition is inherited

An often overlooked item is disposition. Do not select heifers with a poor disposition. Remember that you will be working with and around these animals for many years. Poor disposition is heritable, so those heifers would probably produce calves with poor dispositions.

Take a look at the group of potential replacements. Select those that are structurally sound, have proper conformation, and have four properly spaced teats. Do not select heifers that have been implanted or are overly conditioned. Be sure that potential replacements are old enough to breed and fit into the normal calving season.

Replacement heifers need to achieve approximately 65% of their mature weight by breeding time. They should grow without getting fat between breeding and calving.

Save approximately 50% more heifers than you will need as replacements. This will provide opportunities for culling those heifers that do not breed, do not grow properly or simply do not continue to exhibit the characteristics desired in replacement heifers.

Following selection, the heifers must be managed to maximize productivity. Vaccinate for shipping fever (infectious bovine rhinotracheitis, or IBR; bovine viral diarrhea; parainfluenza-3, or PI-3; and bovine respiratory syncytial virus, or BRSV), leptospirosis (five-way) and clostridials (seven-way). These should be administered according to manufacturer’s recommendations following Beef Quality Assurance guidelines.

Heifers should also be dewormed at weaning. Breed heifers to bulls with a low-birth-weight expected progeny difference. Cull those heifers that do not breed during a limited breeding season.

In summary, the selection of replacement heifers is an important and difficult process. Take the time needed to select the best heifers for your operation.

Lane is University of Tennessee professor and Extension beef specialist.

This article published in the October, 2010 edition of MID-SOUTH FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.