Ohio’s heifer development program expands for next round

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SALEM, Ohio – The maiden run of Ohio’s beef heifer development program saw such success that its founders have expanded it, adding two more locations and more than tripling its ability to help beef producers add to their bottom line.
Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association said last month that it would expand the Ohio Heifer Development Program by adding locations in Jackson and Fairfield counties.
Last year, the program had one location, in Brown County, that handled 75 head of heifers. With the new additions, the state says there’s room for up to 300 heifers to enter the program this fall.
Cooperator savvy. Ohio Cattleman’s Association beef program specialist Bill Doig said the newly added cooperators, Dennis Blakeman and John and Mick Ritchie, have expertise in breeding and feeding cattle and a world of cattleman’s knowledge.
Both operations have previously developed their own heifers, along with feeding and finishing fat cattle, managing cows, or selling club calves, and have the appropriate facilities to develop heifers on a large scale.
Farm loser. Managing replacement heifers on the farm is traditionally challenging and a real profit loser, according to experts: A single heifer can cost as much as $1,000 to develop from weaning to pregnancy.
Many beef producers cross their fingers and hope heifers morph from calf to cow with little attention, but that’s not how it works.
This past year made heifer development an even bigger challenge, thanks to plenty of hot, dry weather and feed and hay shortages.
In fact, Bill Doig said many beef producers are just now realizing how poorly their heifer management is, with heifers and cows turning up unbred after the hot summer.
Or worse, producers who couldn’t find hay and feed for their cattle have already sold part or all of their herd.
“We don’t want to see them selling off their herd, so this program provides a positive solution. Let us be the ones to find the resources to feed the replacement heifers and allow producers to focus on the other animals.”
Cattlemen can consign their heifer calves to the program and anticipate costs from $1.50 to $2 per head per day, Doig said.
The cooperator locations then house, feed, manage and breed them, returning healthy and bred heifers to the farmers in the spring. All along, the consignors retain ownership.
“When you are holding back 10 percent to 25 percent of your females out of an average herd of about 15, mismanagement of replacement heifers can get costly, especially if you are not a full-time cattle producer,” said Doig.
A success. Doig said the 2006-2007 program was a success, pointing to high optimism and interest in the program as driving forces in its expansion.
More than 80 cattlemen attended a July field day at last year’s cooperator site in Brown County, Doig said. That site, the Day Farm, will continue as a cooperator in 2008.
“We talked with producers there and they’re really happy with how the heifers looked,” he said.
Heifers going back to their home farms at the end of the development process were bred and had ideal and consistent body condition scores. That proved the program’s feeding and breeding programs worked, Doig said, noting the heifers had above average conception rates despite the challenging breeding season.
Added value. New for the 2007-2008 program, thanks to producer requests, is the addition of a bred heifer sale.
Doig said the availability of bred heifers at the sale will depend on how many are consigned and not returned to the home farm.
“There aren’t many places in Ohio you can go and find a large group of bred heifers like this,” Doig said. “It’s a great opportunity to buy bred heifers that have value added to them through data collection and being bred to calving-ease bulls.”
Find out more. Doig hopes to have cattle enrolled for next year’s program by the end of November.
Replacement heifers must meet certain physical, development, health and sire requirements to be eligible.
For more information on the beef heifer development program or a consignment form, contact Bill Doig at 614-873-6736 or visit www.ohiocattle.org.
(Reporter Andrea Zippay welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419 or by e-mail at azippay@farmanddairy.com.)

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