OSU Extension Heifer Program Seeing Success

September 17, 2007

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Synchronizing artificial breeding of replacement heifers compared to natural breeding stimulates reproduction earlier in the season, resulting in larger calves at market and potentially more profit for a farmer.

Those findings are the results of management efforts under the Ohio Heifer Development Program -- a new initiative launched last year by Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Cattleman's Association that provides economic and management solutions to raising replacement heifers. Go to http://www.ohiocattle.org and click on "Beef Improvement" for more information about the program.

Replacement heifers 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. But the cattle are often a challenge to manage with the rest of the herd, as well as expensive. 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.

After the first year, OSU Extension and Ohio Cattleman's Association beef program specialist Bill Doig is labeling the program a success.

"It was a year of learning and we faced some challenges with the hot, dry weather. Because of the hot weather, the heifers didn't want to show symptoms that they were in heat, so artificially breeding the heifers was tough," said Doig. "But the percentage of conception was typically what we would see in most beef cattle operations."

Doig said one of the goals of the program is to improve the conception rates of young cattle, which typically produce smaller calves than mature cows.

"If more focus can be placed on the replacement heifers, and conception rates are improved, there will more likely be increased profitability for the operation," said Doig. "Since cattle are sold on a per pound basis, the larger the calves the better. And with the artificial breeding technique we've been using in this program, we've seen success in conception and generating profit for the producer."

Another benefit of the Ohio Heifer Development Program is to help producers reduce the costs of management replacement heifers. 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. Under the program, anticipated costs can range from $1.50 to $2 per head per day, depending on the volatility of the market.

"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."

Doig said that the Ohio Heifer Development Program provides an outlet for producers to maintain their herd when resources run low and feedstock prices run high.

"This season's drought, which was especially severe in southern Ohio, forced a lot of producers to sell their cattle. We saw dramatic increases in the number of cattle going through the market because farmers just couldn't afford to keep feeding them," said Doig. "We don't want to see them selling off their herd, so this program provides a positive solution. Let us be the ones to find the resources to feed the replacement heifers and allow producers to focus on the other animals."

The Day Family in Russellville, Ohio, served as the program's first central development location. The family, which has been raising Angus since the 1950s, will continue accepting consignment cattle next year. In addition, two more central development locations have been added: Lazy 8 Farm in Oak Hill, Ohio, and JR Farms in Lancaster, Ohio.

Central development locations are chosen by the Ohio Heifer Development Program committee based on 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. Last year, 75 cattle were consigned to the program. Doig said with the addition of two locations, producers can enroll up to 300 replacement heifers in the program.

"The producers that enrolled their cattle in the program were very optimistic about the program's potential and were pleased with the results. Based on that kind of feedback, we saw the opportunity for the program to increase," said Doig.

Another new addition to the program will include a bred heifer sale to be offered next fall.

"Producers are always asking where they can go to find a reliable and consistent source of heifers. You generally have three options: raise your own, enroll them in programs like ours, or buy bred heifers after the process," said Doig. "Since one of the goals of the Ohio Heifer Development Program is to ease management stresses, we will offer a bred heifer sale at the end of the development period, targeting the fall of 2008."

The Ohio Heifer Development Program committee is currently accepting consignment forms for replacement heifers. Doig hopes to have cattle enrolled for next year's program by the end of November. Replacement heifers must meet certain physical, development, health and sire requirements to be eligible. For more information on those guidelines, contact Bill Doig at (614) 873-6736, doig.7@osu.edu, or log on to http://bdoig@ohiocattle.org, or http://www.ohiocattle.org and click on "Beef Improvement."

The Ohio Heifer Development Program is funded through a two-year $91,800 Southern Ohio Agricultural and Community Development Foundation grant. It is sponsored by OSU Extension and the Ohio Cattleman's Association, and is based on similar programs established in Kentucky, West Virginia, Missouri and Illinois.

"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