Vet’s Voice: Selecting feed-efficient replacement heifers | TSLN.com

Vet’s Voice: Selecting feed-efficient replacement heifers

Dave Barz, DVM

The holidays are nearing an end and it’s time to begin planning the future breeding season for our cow-calf herd. The cost of adding replacements to the herd is second only to feed costs in the economic scheme. With the investments we make, we must make decisions which will assure longevity of these replacement females.

In the past, many believed in selecting the biggest, thickest, fastest-gaining females for replacements. Although these traits are very important, recent research from Nebraska and Montana have illustrated a problem with these selection parameters.

Producers have been trained that breeding heifers should be 60-65 percent of their mature body weight at breeding time to assure puberty. This model forced producers to feed a lot of concentrate to get gains of at least 1.5 pounds per day. As the cost of feed increased the last few years, the cost of reaching these targets increased drastically. Most of the heifers hit the target, but some become excessively fleshy.

When selecting heifers, try to find “easy keepers” – cattle that are more feed efficient than others. Not only will it save on development cost of the animal, but the future cow herd will have lower feed costs as a result.

Researchers tested a group of heifers where some were fed a restricted diet (27 percent less feed) than traditionally-fed heifers. The restricted-fed heifers gained about 1.15 pounds per day on the restricted diet. At breeding time, these restricted-fed heifers showed a 3-3.5 percent lower pregnancy rate, but rebreeding with second- and third-calves was higher than the heavy-fed heifers. As a result, the restricted-feed heifers had a higher lifetime reproductive rate and remained in the herd longer than the heavy-fed heifers.

Once heifers are selected, place them on a good vaccination program to assure the best possible calving rates. We believe heifers need to be vaccinated with live-virus vaccines before breeding. These live vaccines replicate in the animal and produce immunity. Two vaccinations are required by label for adequate protection. Most heifers have received several live viral vaccinations during their backgrounding period and the pre-breeding booster will cover the problems. It is best to give the final booster at least 30 days before breeding. We now have several new products containing multi-valent viruses and also the new Lepto combinations, Lepto hardjo bovis. Visit with a veterinarian to develop a vaccination program specific to your herd and its needs.

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In the past we have selected for growth and pounds. Recent data shows selection for feed efficiency in our heifers will not only save on heifer development, but also decrease feed costs in the herd for subsequent years. As feed and pasture costs escalate, this may become very important to your operation in the future. Carefully examine your herd and make small changes to improve efficiency, and thereby improve your profitability.

The holidays are nearing an end and it’s time to begin planning the future breeding season for our cow-calf herd. The cost of adding replacements to the herd is second only to feed costs in the economic scheme. With the investments we make, we must make decisions which will assure longevity of these replacement females.

In the past, many believed in selecting the biggest, thickest, fastest-gaining females for replacements. Although these traits are very important, recent research from Nebraska and Montana have illustrated a problem with these selection parameters.

Producers have been trained that breeding heifers should be 60-65 percent of their mature body weight at breeding time to assure puberty. This model forced producers to feed a lot of concentrate to get gains of at least 1.5 pounds per day. As the cost of feed increased the last few years, the cost of reaching these targets increased drastically. Most of the heifers hit the target, but some become excessively fleshy.

When selecting heifers, try to find “easy keepers” – cattle that are more feed efficient than others. Not only will it save on development cost of the animal, but the future cow herd will have lower feed costs as a result.

Researchers tested a group of heifers where some were fed a restricted diet (27 percent less feed) than traditionally-fed heifers. The restricted-fed heifers gained about 1.15 pounds per day on the restricted diet. At breeding time, these restricted-fed heifers showed a 3-3.5 percent lower pregnancy rate, but rebreeding with second- and third-calves was higher than the heavy-fed heifers. As a result, the restricted-feed heifers had a higher lifetime reproductive rate and remained in the herd longer than the heavy-fed heifers.

Once heifers are selected, place them on a good vaccination program to assure the best possible calving rates. We believe heifers need to be vaccinated with live-virus vaccines before breeding. These live vaccines replicate in the animal and produce immunity. Two vaccinations are required by label for adequate protection. Most heifers have received several live viral vaccinations during their backgrounding period and the pre-breeding booster will cover the problems. It is best to give the final booster at least 30 days before breeding. We now have several new products containing multi-valent viruses and also the new Lepto combinations, Lepto hardjo bovis. Visit with a veterinarian to develop a vaccination program specific to your herd and its needs.

In the past we have selected for growth and pounds. Recent data shows selection for feed efficiency in our heifers will not only save on heifer development, but also decrease feed costs in the herd for subsequent years. As feed and pasture costs escalate, this may become very important to your operation in the future. Carefully examine your herd and make small changes to improve efficiency, and thereby improve your profitability.

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