Improving Heifer Development with New Livestock Program

December 8, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A new Ohio State University Extension livestock program is making it possible for Ohio cattle producers to manage their own replacement heifers more efficiently.

Through a two-year $91,800 Southern Ohio Agricultural and Community Development Foundation grant, OSU Extension, along with the Ohio Cattleman's Association, has launched the Ohio Heifer Development Program. The program, similar to those in Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri and Illinois, provides potential economic and management solutions to raising replacement heifers -- cattle that are held back for the purpose of maintaining herd numbers and ensuring that calves share the best genetic traits the heifer and bull have to offer.

Replacement heifers, however, are often a challenge to manage with the rest of the herd and can also be quite expensive, said Bill Doig, a beef program specialist with OSU Extension and the Ohio Cattleman's Association.

"It is imperative to place replacement heifers in a separate location from the remainder of the herd in order to properly feed and manage them. However, the majority of producers choose to manage the heifers with the rest of the herd, most often due to the fact that they do not have the facilities available or the time or labor to manage the heifer separately," said Doig. "If the nutritional needs of a replacement heifer are not met from weaning until she is bred, this can have a dramatic impact on her future as a productive and profitable cow."

Additionally, the costs to develop and breed a replacement heifer on an individual farm can be as high as $1,000, when the value of the heifer and the need of developing the heifer from weaning to pregnancy is taken into consideration.

"When you are holding back 10 percent to 25 percent of your females out of an average herd of about 15, mismanagement of replacement heifers can get costly, especially if you are not a full-time cattle producer," said Doig. "And the reality is, many producers really don't even know how much it costs to keep three or four replacement heifers."

The Ohio Heifer Development Program is designed to ease the management and economic stresses of individually raising replacement heifers by placing eligible cattle in a central location to be developed and bred artificially to bulls with proven genetics. Producers still retain ownership of the heifers, but pay a daily fee that covers the cost of feed, medicine, reproductive costs and labor.

Doig said the program offers numerous benefits to producers.

"One is that it can decrease bull costs. Generally, a calving ease bull is kept for breeding heifers, and is usually not the same bull that is servicing the mature cowherd. If heifers are developed in a replacement program, the need to have a calving ease bull is eliminated," said Doig. "Second, the replacement program allows the focus of the operation to change to more emphasis on young cows. Research has shown that the females most difficult to breed back are young two-and three year-olds in production. If more focus can be placed on this group, and conception rates are improved, there will more likely be increased profitability for the operation."

The Ohio Heifer Development Program committee has chosen its central development location to kick off the program's first year: the Day Family Farm in Russellville, Ohio. The family has been raising Angus since the 1950s, and was chosen on the basis of its background in the cattle industry, the types of cattle raised, experience in reproduction, feeding and management, and the capacity of the facility to maintain up to 100 replacement heifers.

The committee is currently accepting consignments from cattle producers throughout Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, to enroll their replacement heifers into the program. Consignment deadline is Jan. 5. Details of the Ohio Heifer Development Program and the enrollment requirements for replacement heifers can be found by logging on to http://www.ohiocattle.org and clicking on "Beef Improvement," or by contacting Doig at (614) 873-6736, or doig.7@osu.edu, or bdoig@ohiocattle.org.

Doig said that he hopes to increase the number of central development locations as the Ohio Heifer Development Program progresses. Such an expansion would also include educational workshops and on-farm demonstrations that further enhance the benefits of the program and aid producers in raising and breeding their own replacement heifers.

"We don't want to re-invent the wheel. The purpose of this program is to take what has been successful in other state replacement heifer programs, put a spin on it, and make it our own for Ohio," said Doig.

In Ohio, nearly 60,000 cows are replacement heifers, representing a value to the industry of approximately $60 million.

Author(s): 
Candace Pollock
Source(s): 
Bill Doig