Heifer development starts now
There are several management and nutritional factors to consider when it comes to raising heifers as replacements for your herd. Dr. John Hall, an Extension Beef Specialist with the University of Idaho shared some good information on heifer development in a recent presentation.
To start, Dr. Hall talked about some goals to set with respect to your replacement heifers. You want a heifer to have her first calf as a two-year-old, and then you want her to calve every 365 days for the next seven to eight years.
It’s important to prepare your heifers for a successful first calving. This will have an effect on gestation and calving in subsequent years. Dr. Hall mentioned a study by Cushmon et al. (2013) which found that a heifer that becomes pregnant in the first cycle (the first 21 days of the breeding season), will wean heavier calves through her first six lactations. Poor pre-partum nutrition leads to lower weaning weights and lower weights at the time of pregnancy checking. This can lead to a lower percentage of heifers becoming pregnant in the first breeding cycle and a lower overall pregnancy rate. It can also cause increased calving difficulty.
Producers should set a target weight for replacement heifers at puberty. Dr. Hall suggests producers should aim for your heifers to be 65% of their mature weight at puberty. Some producers target heifers to be 55% of their mature weight at puberty. There are pros and cons to both. One benefit of having your heifers at 65% of mature weight at puberty is a decrease in dystocia (calving difficulty). A benefit to having your heifers reach 55% of mature weight at puberty is a decreased cost in feed. Dr. Hall reasons that if you aim for 65% and come up a bit short, it’s not as big of a deal, but if you aim for 55% and come up short, then you start running in to issues.
It’s important to start thinking about the development of replacement heifers early on. This allows you to make important management decisions from the start.
For more information on this or other livestock related topics, please contact Jessica Smith, Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist in Swift Current at 306778-8289, call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377, or visit our website www.saskatchewan.ca.