With soaring cattle prices and a positive outlook due to the lowest calf crop on record since 1953, cattle producers are in an unusual situation at this particular time. "Do I retain heifers, do I cull through my cows and replace them with higher-quality cattle, and should I consider replacing my herd bull?" are all questions to be considered. Let’s look at some considerations for each of these management decisions.
When making the decision on keeping replacement heifers or selling them, first look at your overall herd. Do you have the number of cattle you want or do you want to increase your herd size? If you are satisfied with the size of your herd and the heifers will not improve the genetics in your herd, then I would recommend selling them at these higher prices.
If you want to increase the size of your cattle herd or you want to replace some cows, then I would recommend keeping heifers for no other reason other than availability of quality cattle in the market place. It is very difficult to find quality cows to go back into your herd at this time. The good cattle coming into the market place are bringing a premium price. If you can find good quality cows, then you need to strongly consider this as an option.
From a business standpoint, consider the following example: You can keep your heifers or sell them at 700 pounds for $700 and find bred replacement cows for $1,100. How do you decide which is your best option? A heifer weighing 700 pounds at weaning will cost a minimum of $150 in feed until she is old enough to breed, at which point you will have another additional cost of $250 when she calves for a total cost at calving of $1,100.
While, at this point, you will have basically the same amount of money in both the retained heifer and the purchased brood cow, you will have sold two calves off the brood cow before selling the first calf off your heifer. Other issues to consider are cows will normally raise a heavier calf at weaning than a heifer and heifers are normally slower breeding back and require additional feed to maintain body condition and to promote growth.
With all things considered, in this example, I would rather have the bred cow. If you cannot locate quality bred cows and you have replacement heifers, then nutrition is the key to the success of this program. Growing heifers require additional protein and energy above what forage alone provides. You need to develop a feeding program providing an average of 1.75 pounds of gain per-head per-day to get these heifers ready to breed. I would recommend putting heifers with a bull earlier than your cows in the breeding season as well. This will give more time to get these heifers in good condition over the calving process providing a higher conception rate on year two of their calving cycle.
I would also recommend a very good mineral and vitamin supplement be provided at all times to make sure the heifers have strong cycles leading to higher pregnancy rates. Your local Quality Co-op has the feed, mineral supplements and supplement tubs to help you develop quality heifers.
Another consideration is culling your cattle or keeping cows in your herd. While this seems like an easy question to answer, it’s not as easy as you would first think.
Cull cattle prices are very strong and this entices most producers to cull heavily in their herd. The problem is: Can you replace these cows? If you can find replacement cows, retain heifers or want to reduce your herd, the answer is yes, cull heavily at this time. If you want to maintain or increase your current herd size, I would recommend being more selective in the culling process.
Always cull cows for bad udders, structural problems, poor milking ability and poor reproductive performance; but you may want to consider keeping older cows that still raise a good calf while maintaining good body condition, as well as those cows that may not "fit" your cow herd or may have slight disposition problems. While these cows are not perfect, they may be a lot better than any replacement cows, making them more desirable.
Another consideration is the replacement of herd sires. This is an option I would highly recommend. With cull bulls at record prices and the availability of good, high-quality, purebred herd sires at reasonable prices, this makes a pretty good decision. You will not have to pay a lot of difference in money to buy a good-quality sire that will improve herd genetics and increase the value of your calf crop.
With weigh bulls approaching .90 cents a pound, you can easily go to a purebred bull sale of your choice and find a replacement for very little additional investment. If you choose to follow this route, I would recommend you do your homework and make sure to select a bull that will improve the overall genetics in your herd. Utilize both visual aspects and expected progeny differences (EPDs) to make this selection.
When purchasing a herd sire through a purebred sale, you will most likely be purchasing a young bull; therefore, the development, management and maintenance of the sire is very important. Newly-purchased bulls should be bought well in advance of the breeding season. The bull should have had a reproductive soundness exam and treated for both internal and external parasites. You also need to remember the bull is growing and must be fed well to insure continued growth and development. You should follow strict guidelines when putting the bull out with cows as to not over work the young bull. A two-year-old bull should run with no more than 25 cows during the breeding season while a 18-month-old bull should run with no more than 18 cows during a particular breeding season.
A 1,200-pound bull should also be fed at least 20 pounds of feed containing at least 11 percent protein and 64 percent total digestible nutrients (TDN) for normal growth and maintenance.
If you will follow these guidelines when selecting and developing a herd sire, you will be more than pleased with the end results.
Jimmy Hughes is AFC’s animal nutritionist.