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Replacement heifers debated

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Many producers don’t make the decision to keep their own heifers to develop or purchase new heifers to add genetics into their herd lightly.  

In a recent Kansas State University (KSU) Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) podcast, KSU Professors Brad White, Bob Larson, Dustin Pendell and Brain Lubbers share the decision to raise or purchase heifers includes economics, biosecurity and genetics among other considerations.  

Simplified operations 

Speaking from the perspective of a cow/calf operator, Larson says purchasing heifers helps keep operations simple.  

“Heifers are at a different stage of life than the rest of my adult cows, and buying heifers from somewhere else has its advantages in keeping everything simple,” he explains. 

Additionally, from a labor standpoint, Larson says extra groups of cattle only add to the long list of to-dos around the ranch and complicates marketing.  

“Every time I add another marketing group – animals fitting into a specific weight or pregnancy status class – I increase the amount of time and effort I have to place into the marketing of animals rather than just marketing feeder calves,” he says. “One of the advantages of buying replacement heifers is a streamlined marketing system for selling cattle.” 

However, Larson notes a simplified marketing system may not beneficial for some producers.  

Cost-benefit analysis 

When considering purchasing or retaining replacement heifers, Pendell states there are many things producers should keep in mind from an economic standpoint. The cost and availability of labor as well as feed costs are a couple items producers need to remember in figuring the cost of raising versus purchasing replacements.  

“If producers are trying to raise a whole bunch of replacement heifers, understanding the price and availability of replacement heifers is important, too,” he says. “There are many other items from a cost-benefit perspective, including tax implications and cash-flow needs.” 

Larson notes some costs, such as labor, have differences based on efficiencies, sharing, “Retaining three heifers from a herd will cost almost as much in time as retaining 20 heifers.” 


In addition to labor and time, herd health and biosecurity are also a concern.  

“There are certainly marketing channels where producers have more assurance about what would be coming into the herd, and there are testing strategies for producers concerned about maintaining a certain pathogen-free status,” Lubben says. 

He continues, “Certainly, if producers are raising their own, it’s a much more known factor. Producers retaining their own heifers know the risk of their area, and can be assured they are not changing the pathogen mode their animals are going to be exposed to if retaining.” 

Complicated answers 

“This is not an easy decision,” says Larson. “It seems to be, from an economic, health, labor and management standpoint, producers are either going to be spending their time developing heifers or finding heifers and working with a supplier.” 

Larson continues, “But, it is much more complicated than it seems and there are correct answers that are very different for different producers.”  

The team shares their top six considerations to keep in mind when deciding to purchase or retain replacement heifers are understanding cash-flow and tax implications, determining biosecurity risks, knowing the overall cost, evaluating the efficiencies of scale, developing genetic improvement plans and overall, realizing all costs and benefits of raising versus purchasing heifers.  

Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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