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Replacement heifer selection and development discussed

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

 Many cow/calf producers start to make their replacement heifer selections in the fall and begin making plans regarding how to develop those heifers into bred females. 

During a University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) BeefWatch Podcast, dated Sept. 1, UNL Beef Specialist and Professor Emeritus Dr. Jim Gosey and UNL Extension Beef Reproduction Specialist Dr. Rick Funston offer suggestions on selecting and developing replacement heifers for a cowherd.

“Right now, most producers are getting ready to wean their calves or they are in the process of weaning their calves, especially those facing extremely dry conditions,” states Funston.  “Many are also making decisions on which replacement females to keep, and they need to remember records are very important.”

Selecting heifers

When it comes to selecting replacement heifers, Gosey suggests producers should first remove certain heifers from the bunch.

These include heifers born late in the calving season – after the first 45 days – heifers born from cows that needed assistance during calving and heifers born to dams with big teats or that needed help getting their calves to nurse. He also suggests getting rid of heifers that were exceptionally small at weaning and those with an attitude problem. 

“After these heifers are removed, consider developing the rest and exposing them for a short breeding season of 30 to 45 days,” Gosey says. “This will select for those heifers that are most fertile.”

He also notes if a producer is trying to reduce the number of heifers to be kept as replacements, they should give special consideration to keeping daughters from older cows in the herd. 

“Producers should keep daughters from older cows in the herd, because the dams of these heifers have obviously worked in the producer’s production environment,” Gosey says, noting the daughters would most likely perform similar to their dams. 

Funston points to some research from UNL’s Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory, which looked at the age of the dam in regards to how the heifer performed in the herd as she aged. 

“We tracked the performance of heifers as they moved through the herd to see if there was any indication on the influence of when the dam calved and how successful the heifer would be as a cow,” Funston explains. “We found heifers born in the first 21 days of the calving period generally have a higher pregnancy rate, higher average daily gain, they breed back better, and they have heavier calves.”  

“If a producer knows nothing else about a female they are keeping as a replacement, but when she was born and the dam she was out of, it makes for pretty good selection criteria,” he continues. 

Developing heifers

Funston says producers should consider developing replacement heifers using a systems approach and utilizing the feed resources they will be expected to consume as mature cows. 

He notes research done at UNL in collaboration with several other universities has shown heifers can be developed to 50 to 57 percent of their mature weight at breeding and not impair reproduction performance.

“However, it is critical an appropriate level of nutrition is available prior to breeding and through calving to achieve these results,” Funston states. 

Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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