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Cashing in: Wyo heifer program adds value

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

With limited national feeder cattle supply over the next three to five years, some say the opportunity and timing is ideal for cow/calf producers to take advantage of a premium market for commercial heifers, and a new Wyoming program aims to help the state’s producers do just that.
    The Wyoming Premium Heifer Program will add value to commercial heifers through quality-assured protocol and national video sales. The program is a partnership between the UW Department of Animal Science and the Wyoming Business Council’s Agribusiness Division.
    “The objective of this program is to develop and market a source of quality commercial replacement heifer calves and bred heifers that are produced and managed under a set of standard guidelines to meet the requirements of producers nationally,” says Wyoming Business Council’s Agribusiness Division Livestock and Meat Marketing Program Manager John Henn, adding that the key elements of the program will be met by participating producers through procedure verification and documentation. “This will assure buyers across the country that the certified animals are managed, raised and bred as outlined in the program.”
    “The timing is right, and this will be a great opportunity for the Wyoming cow/calf producers who are interested,” says Henn. “This will give them the ability to market their heifer calves or bred heifers for a higher dollar, versus selling them as feeder calves.”
    Henn says a number of heifer calves that sold in video sales and at sale barns in 2011 were sold in feeder cattle sales but were actually bought for replacements.
    “My intent with the program is to take those heifers to the next level as a product, bundling them as raised and managed under a specific set of protocols and guidelines,” he comments.
The numbers
    To enroll in the project, there is an annual $25 ranch enrollment fee, but that has been waived for the first year. There is also a three-dollar-per-head enrollment fee, which includes the cost of the tag, and the producer would assume costs on sale day.
    However, Henn says an added-value heifer program could mean that heifers could sell for $2,400 to $2,500 each, as they did at the Missouri Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program Sale in December 2011.
    He also notes a CattleFax projection that predicts prices for bred cows will increase by 25 percent in 2012.
    “Bred females in Wyoming have brought $1,600 to $1,800 each in the last month,” he notes. “And we’re just beginning. This demand will go on five years, at least, and, conservatively, we expect to add $200 to $300 per head with our program, versus just selling heifers at the local auction market.”
Alternate breeds
    Although the management protocols will be specific, Henn says there are no breed or color restrictions.
    “When you go across the country, there are buyers looking for any breed or crossbreed, and hybrid vigor is being talked about again. An F1 female cross will be in demand over the next several years,” he explains. “That represents a great opportunity for producers who have straight-bred animals to put an alternate breed on them to get an alternate female cross that is in demand.”
    There are also no quantity requirements in the program.
    “Producers with less than a truckload – with 10, 20 or 40 head – will have the opportunity to market their animals to a value-added market, and it gives buyers from out-of-state the opportunity to put loads together when purchasing animals from several different producers,” says Henn.
Heifer management
    The management protocol required by the Wyoming Premium Heifer Program is something most producers already follow pretty closely, says Henn.
    “These protocols will by verified by a set of documents that ensure producers follow the vaccination, breeding and herd health management protocols,” he explains. “Then the buyers, whether they’re from Texas, Arkansas, Iowa or Oklahoma, know that the animals have been managed and handled a certain way.”
National visibility
    Henn says the Wyoming Premium Heifer Program will have its own internet video sales, and the program, cattle listings and special sales will be promoted and marketed through industry publications and convention trade shows across the country.
    “We’re looking at video sales this first year because they attract a broader base of buyers, and we’ll partner with a Wyoming auction market,” he states. “I will promote those special sales around the country at industry conventions and trade shows, and through ads in industry periodicals.”
    The first sale is expected in December 2012, with more to follow in 2013.
    “The program’s sales and listings will be especially promoted in those areas where rebuilding and expansion will take place, from the Southern Plains to the Midwest and West,” says Henn. “Heifers certified in the program will also be listed on the Wyoming Beef Cattle List at with consigned sale date and specifications.”
Capture value
    “The market is presenting a great opportunity for producers to cash in on added value, and there will be a demand for heifer calves across the country, when the Southern Plains start rebuilding and the northern herds start expanding,” says Henn. “There will be competition for that heifer calf from the production segment of the industry, as well as the feeder segment.”
    “The Wyoming Premium Heifer Program will provide the ability for producers to create and capture that added value sought by buyers across the country,” he adds.
    Producers must submit a membership application by June 1 for enrollment of bred heifers, and by Sept. 1 for replacement heifer calves.
    For more information contact Scott Lake, Livestock Extension Specialist, UW Department of Animal Science, at 307-766-3892 or; or John Henn, Livestock and Meat Marketing Program Manager, Wyoming Business Council Agribusiness Division at 307-777-2847 or Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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