Cow Camp Chatter Add value to bred heifers.

by Ron Torell, long-standing educator and advocate of agriculture

As we enter the rebuilding phase of our national brood cow herd, market analyzers are predicting high demand and record prices for bred females. Last year we saw commercial bred heifers sell anywhere from $1,200 to $1,800. These payouts were disappointing given the record high prices paid for calves, yearlings and market-ready cows. It is anticipated that bred-female prices will adjust in 2012 and trade in the range of $1,500 to $2,300. So why the disparity and huge price range associated with this class of cattle? Could it be that some sellers are producing what the buyer wants?

Genetic quality and uniformity are undoubtedly the top two factors to consider when determining the value of bred heifers. To bring top dollar in the bred-heifer market, start with quality heifer calves that are uniform in age, frame size, muscle, color and weight. Most sellers keep the best and sell the rest. Buyers know this and bid accordingly. Don’t expect to receive top dollar when using the bottom end of heifer calves to put together a load of bred heifers.

Uniformity of the entire load cannot be overemphasized. Do not try to slide late-calving heifers, one or two reds with a load of blacks, or a few young and smaller-framed heifers with the opposite. This takes away from the value of the load. Pull the outliers, even if this results in a lighter load with freight adjustment.

Minimum base weights for heifers of 1,000 pounds (lb.) seem to sell the best. This heavier weight suggests that the heifers are properly developed and have growth potential. There is a market for smaller-framed heifers that weigh 900 lb., provided the heifer has a body condition score of 6 (see This signifies that the heifer is developed for her genetically smaller frame.

Having extra heifers to pick from is a great option for adding value. If a seller describes 50 heifers with a base weight of 1,000 lb. and can offer the buyer his or her pick from 60 or even 100 head, value is added.

Vaccinations and health protocol are clear-cut. Heifers should be vaccinated according to label with a minimum of a modified-live virus (MLV) four-way [against bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) Type 1 and 2, infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) and parainfluenza type 3 (PI3) viruses], two shots of atrichomoniasis (in the western states), vibriosis, leptospirosis, two shots of a seven- or eight-way chlostridial, and dewormed. Certain lots of bred heifers are sold guaranteed free of BVD. This has the potential to add value. Bang’s disease vaccination and visible USDA tags are imperative to enter many western states.

Bred-heifer sellers who have a reputation for buying and using top-end bulls do reasonably well in the bred-heifer market. Using artificial insemination (AI) to recognized high-accuracy calving-ease bulls will demand top dollar provided all other value-added criteria are met. Keep in mind that AI programs carry additional input costs, which may or may not surpass any added value.

Strategic timing is key when selling. Listing the lot too early will remove potential buyers that have not yet assessed their replacement needs after pregnancy testing. Listing too late may remove those buyers that have already filled their replacement requirements. In many areas, a 45-day calving interval starting in late February to early March commands the best price. Spring-calving bred heifers delivered Dec. 1 or later seem to be in higher demand than heifers delivered at an earlier date. This is primarily due to the associated winter feeding costs up to calving. It’s important to note that there are those producers who calve heifers in April, while in other areas of the country fall calving is the primary market.

When selling there is no guarantee that all inputs will result in a return on your investment. Pelvic measurements, ultrasound pregnancy testing, sexed fetuses, and age and source verification are management practices that have the potential of adding value, but also may add unrecoverable input costs. One-iron cattle that are hip-branded only, cattle having no waddles or ear marks, and good-disposition cattle generally have a tendency to add value to the load.

Most buyers take into consideration the reputation and integrity of a seller in their dealings. It takes just one unpleasant or misleading deal to brand you with a bad reputation. When selling, it is paramount to represent cattle accurately in their sale description. There should be no surprises come delivery time. Be honest in the portrayal of your cattle, and live up to the terms of the agreement. A reputation built upon honesty, reliability, ethics, morals and principles will serve you well.


That’s enough for this month. A special thanks to my wife, Jackie, for her part in writing “Cow Camp Chatter.” As always, if you would like to discuss this article or simply want to talk cows, do not hesitate to contact me at 775-385-7665 or e-mail me.


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