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The question to ask: To buy or raise your replacement heifers
Ohio Farm News
By Steve Bartels

Recently at the Butler County Cattlemen Education Committee meeting, it was suggested that we need to learn more about beef heifer development. The addition of replacement heifers to the herd is an extremely important facet of cow-calf production.

We will be addressing the information producers need to grow their own heifers in meetings this winter. The discussion got me to thinking about the economics of purchasing your heifers instead of buying them.

In an OSU Extension Beef Team Newsletter last spring, John Grimes, Highland County agriculture educator, wrote an interesting discussion on the pros and cons of raising your own replacements.

John said, historically, most producers will add replacement heifers from their own herd. The most common reasons given for this practice include: utilizing known genetics, concern of disease introduction, and the cost of purchasing replacement females from an outside source.

The first two reasons are very legitimate. If a producer has utilized high quality maternal genetics in their breeding program, they may not be able to improve on these females from an outside source.

Sound biosecurity practices are always justified from a disease prevention standpoint. However, under closer inspection, the reluctance to purchase replacement females based on cost is not clearly justified.

Determining the value or cost of a replacement female appears to be a straightforward task, Grimes asserted. One typically starts by assigning a dollar value to a weaned heifer calf then adds any feed, breeding, and veterinary costs to come up with a value for the replacement heifer. However, this is a very basic starting point.

Other factors must be considered to accurately portray the cost of the replacement heifer.

First, any heifers retained as replacements will result in fewer head sold during these times of historically high feeder calf prices. This can have obvious effects on an operation’s cash flow.

A properly managed replacement heifer should be managed separately from the rest of the cowherd. Poor management of the replacement heifer, from weaning through her first calf’s weaning, will impact her production throughout her lifetime. Do you have adequate facilities, pastures, feed resources, bull power, etc., to deal with a separate production unit? How many more cows could your operation handle if you did not have to grow out replacement heifers? Are you willing to artificially inseminate using calving ease sires or do you have enough replacement heifers to justify a natural service sire with calving ease genetics?

Finding a source of desirable replacement heifers can be a challenge. Look for a source with the genetics that you need with a management system and health program that meets or exceeds your own.

Grimes pointed out that, by purchasing replacement females, you can accelerate genetic improvement of the cowherd by purchasing high quality heifers over genetic advances made from the sire. He said an operation that purchases bred replacement heifers has increased flexibility with sire selection. The small herd that retains a few heifers and uses a single herd bull will have to purchase a new sire every two years.

Purchased replacement heifers would allow a superior sire to stay in the herd for a greater length of time and thus, reduce sire expense. Purchased replacement heifers can also help facilitate a structured crossbreeding program. A cowherd comprised of single breed, or F1 crossbred females, can be mated to a sire of a different breed to help maximize the benefits of heterosis.

This farm news was published in the June 7, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.