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Animal Health Notebook

Big replacement heifers versus low costs

Big replacement heifers versus low costs
Put simply, the best replacement heifers are the ones in the middle, because they cost less to raise and therefore make more money.

King David wrote (Psalm 37:25-27) that once he was young and now he is old but had never seen those in right standing with the Lord forsaken, begging, or their offspring turned out alone.

His point was that making wise decisions is important. The same is true of who we choose to ask advice and listen and heed.

It also is important we learn to listen after inspecting their fruit. Most of the time, we need only to get out of the truck and observe.

Along these lines, Burke Teichert recently wrote some good stuff on replacement heifers in BEEF. I’ll add a few of my thoughts and experiences concerning replacements. I hope Burke agrees. A lot of folks do not. They are mostly wrong.

The pretty girls in the heifer pool need to swim away to someone who wants high costs and rebreeding problems.

Ray Bannister of Montana told me recently that the correctness and execution of your next decision is determined by the rightness or wrongness of your last decision and/or move. My solution to this is that I do best when I do a little every day. The mistakes will happen but they are much smaller and less expensive.

I have been working with a couple hundred breeding heifers recently. They do not belong to me. I was called in to take a look and make suggestions. The owner wanted to breed in November. They were retained yearlings from his cow herd. They were being fed quite well and my recommendation was to breed them all and sleeve them quick. He had a real good grinding market (hamburger) for 1,000-pound open heifers.

In the past I have gone to print saying I want to cull the "dogs" off the bottom and the "pretty" girls off the top and go to the bulls with everything else.

Most producers want to keep the "showy" heifers and I want to sell them. Longevity and quality of life is what I desire. I sure want to sell the showy heifers that are usually from high-milking cows.

Getting 14- to 16-month-old heifers pregnant should not be a problem. The big three problems show up later and are:
1. Calving unassisted
2. Getting heifers pregnant with their second calf
3. Marketing in a falling market

There is lots of calving-ease genetics out there. Some have high repeatability. Calving in the natural window -- meaning close to the summer solstice -- gets the second pregnancy most of the time. Empty feed sacks piled high also get the second pregnancy most of the time -- if the pairs are separated from the cow herd. After that we have to deal with the third pregnancy.

Low-cost production is the main key to successful marketing, meaning black ink. Lots of fresh grass blankets most problems. Good management decisions and planning followed by accurate execution trumps money expenditures.

The management team I mentioned above chose to A.I. the heifers rather than lease easy-calving bulls. They had been using carcass bulls. They chose a Mercedes program. The heifers were flighty, real flighty. The cattle handling facility might need an upgrade. A big cold front blew in the day the heifers were being bred, and 60% of the heifers checked open 56 days later. Pregnancy cost computed to close to $100 per pregnancy.

We thought that the open heifers were going to be a plus since we had a niche grinding deal at 1,000 pounds that required only a little finish. However, that market had headed south and I am fearful that our “deal” will follow.

This says once again that we should think about the benefits of low-cost production, one of which is lowered cost risk.

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