A Producer’s Perspective on Selecting and Development of Replacement Heifers

By : Written collaboratively by Robin Salverson, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist, SDSU Animal Science Department, and Taylor Grussing, Courtesy of iGrow.org

During the 2018 Heifer Development Tour, the Erickson Family provided insight on how they select and manage their replacement heifers to match their farm’s environment near Langford in Northeastern South Dakota.

To start, all heifers must be born within the first 30 days of the calving season to be considered as potential replacements in the Erickson’s herd. At no point are the heifers weighed, but culling can occur throughout development due to poor disposition, structural defects, frame size whether too large or small, bad udders on the dam, and age. Mark Erickson, manager of the cattle side of Erickson’ operation calls cull heifers the “too’s”, for being too big, too small, or too wild.

Erickson’s management of selecting heifers born early in the calving season, follows research that heifers born in the first 21 days of the calving season have increased longevity in the cow herd. With increased development cost, it is critical that a cow remains in a herd for many years to be profitable. Depending on an operation’s cost, that could be six calves born before a cow will turn a profit.

Erickson’s focus on developing their heifers on grazed forages similar to what they will consume as cows. The heifers are provided a weaning ration in the drylot to get started on feed, but then soon are turned out to graze fields (i.e. cover crops, cornstalks) in the fall and winter. Heifers return to the lot in the spring for a short time until cool season grasses are available to begin grazing 45 prior to the beginning of the breeding season on June 25. This program sets heifers up on a positive plane of nutrition prior to the breeding season and increases chances of reproductive success. If heifers are not turned out to grass 30 – 45 days before the breeding season, research shows heifers lose over 3 pounds per head per day during the first week of grazing, resulting in a lower conception rate if bred prior to or soon after turnout.

All Erickson’s heifers are synchronized with a 14 day CIDR protocol and bred AI. Soon after AI, clean up bulls are turned out for 30 days. A shortened breeding season, increases selection pressure on the heifers based on fertility. Erickson’s sire selection is based on a bull that can provide “everything”, not just maternal, as they also manage a drylot finishing enterprise.

To develop heifers by grazing what is available including cover crops, corn stalks, rye, triticale, oats, and cool and warm season grasses with limited time in a lot is Erickson’s ultimate goal. They don’t want replacement heifers naïve to feedstuffs that will be fed to them as cows. This forage based heifer development system can be designed differently based on the region of the country. Here in South Dakota, producers utilizing crop livestock integration is a key component in successfully grazing heifers for most of their development phase.

For more information on heifer selection and development, visit iGrow Beef.



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