How to select quality replacement heifers

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Herd of beef cattle.

The selection of replacement heifers is important to the beef herd as a whole but can be a costly factor. Use the following tips to make the right selections to improve your herd.

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1Objectives
The first step is to define the heifer’s purpose in the herd. The heifer should get pregnant at 12-15 months of age and wean a calf, and they must rebreed and continue to produce a calf each year. The heifer should also be a source of genetic improvement to the collective herd by introducing traits such as fertility, progeny growth and progeny market value.

2Weaning
Select heifers at weaning that are bigger. These heifers are typically born earlier in the breeding season and grow faster before weaning. The faster growth may be an indication of the dam’s higher milk production and better genetics for growth, which may be passed on to the next generation.

3Traits
Use genetic prediction tools such as EPDs to define the traits that best match the environment for the heifers. Identify heifers that have enough condition to be healthy, but aren’t overfat or very thin, regardless of weight. And, use docility as a factor cattleof selection.

4Have a vision
Every farmer has a vision of his or her ideal beef cow. Keeping heifers of ideal phenotype over time will result in a greater likelihood of similar phenotypes in future generations.

At the end of the day, you want cows that thrive in the environment you have provided for them and continue to produce strong quality offspring that make your operation sustainable.

Sources: Replacement Heifer Selection, Beef Column, Dr. John Comerford, Penn  State Extension; 8 strategies for selecting replacement heifers, Beef Magazine.

(Farm and Dairy is featuring a series of “101” columns throughout the year to help young and beginning farmers master farm living. From finances to management to machinery repair and animal care, farmers do it all.)

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