Many producers have been reducing their herd sizes this year and as you watch trailers full of cows make their way to the auction yard, you may be contemplating exactly which of your heifer calves you should select as replacements and which should be sent down the road with the steer calves.
First of all, there should be some automatic culling reasons no matter the year. If they have a structural fault of any kind, you don’t want them in your herd. Whether that be feet and leg issues, udder or mammary system problems, lack of capacity, or narrow pins, go ahead and put them on the cull list. Another good reason not to keep a heifer is if she had a tough entry to the world. If her dam had calving problems, there’s a good chance her dam will have passed it on to her. In a year like this where feed is short, you may not want to take that risk.
Another thing to think about is the heifer’s birth weight. A birth weight that is not too big and not too small is what you want to shoot for. A heifer calf that had an average birth weight will likely throw calves with average birth weights, which is something to aim for. Too big, and you might run into calving problems. Too small, and you’ll lose precious pounds when you ship.
Looking at the size of your calves may help you make your replacement heifer decisions, but their birth dates are also important. The calves that were born in the first 21 days of your calving cycle are going to mature earlier than the later born calves, which means they’ll get pregnant earlier and calve earlier, helping you to keep the majority of your calves born in that first cycle. These calves were also born to the cows that caught on the first cycle, suggesting that they are the more fertile cows and may pass that on to their daughters.
If you have white faced cows in your herd, it can also be helpful to select the heifers that have pigmentation around their eye. Cows that have white skin around their eyes have a higher risk of pink eye, and in a year where feed is in short supply, it’s just not worth keeping them. Speaking of risk, the heifer calves that are nervous or give you sketchy vibes are also not worth keeping. It can be tough to get rid of those cows and calves with problem dispositions sometimes but adding a hospital bill to your feed bill isn’t a great idea this year.
Other heifers that would be good to keep are those out of your older cows, provided they still meet the previous criteria. If their dams are older and have been part of your herd for a while, the calves will probably have some longevity to them as well.
Finally, you can always look at the genetics of your calves. EPD’s, or expected progeny differences, are the estimated value of your cattle as breeding stock. If the sire and/or the dam of an average calf has good EPD’s, it might be worth keeping the calf as a replacement. Of course, if the calf has a structural fault, EPD’s won’t save it from the cull pen.
Selecting your replacement heifers can be tricky business, especially in years like this. For more information on choosing who in your herd gets to stay and who gets to go on a field trip, contact your local MSU Extension office.
|Which of these heifers would you keep and which would you cull?|