By Shan Ingram
Most cow-calf producers believe three myths associated with the development of heifers into cows. I will discuss them briefly in this article.
- Myth #1. Limit the amount of feed given to heifers prior to calving so the calves will be small and calving difficulties will be less. The facts are that by limiting feed to bred heifers we weaken them; therefore, they have less stamina to get through the calving process and we actually increase calving difficulty. Less feed also causes them to be in poor body condition after calving.
The largest impact in this type of management is that heifers are so poor that we lessen the likelihood that they will breed back on time, if at all. Bred heifers should be maintained in at least a Body Condition Score (BCS) of five. BCS sixes and sevens are probably better. If you historically have to pull a lot of calves, there is probably something wrong with your genetic selections and your heifer development program (or lack thereof).
- Myth #2. A heifer’s first calf will be an inferior calf and lack weaning weight. This is positively wrong. I have summarized the weaning weights of calves produced by our raised cow herd at The Noble Foundation’s Pasture Demonstration Farm since 1991. There is naturally some year to year variation (Figure 1), but on the average during this eight-year period, calves from first calf heifers weighed slightly more than calves produced by older cows. How can this be? One reason is that the heifer’s breeding season is one month earlier than the cow herd’s breeding season; so, calves are older at weaning time. Also, if we are doing a good job of selection, heifers are genetically superior to older cows. The fact remains, through proper management and the selection of bulls with low birth-weights and good growth, calves from first-calf heifers are acceptable.
- Myth #3. First-calf heifers are a problem to rebreed. When handled properly, first-calf heifers will rebreed well. We manage our heifers to grow out well between weaning and breeding. They will weigh approximately 75% of their mature weight at first breeding and 85-90% of their mature weight at first calving (when they are 22-23 months old).