Is a heifer’s calf a good replacement?

Dr. Bob Weaber, Extension cow-calf specialist, Kansas State University   |   Updated: July 12, 2012

A reader recently sent Drovers/CattleNetwork a question, asking: “If in good health, is there any down side to keeping a first-calf heifer’s calf for a replacement?” We sent the question to Kansas State University cow-calf Extension specialist Bob Weaber, and received the following answer:

As with many beef production decisions, retention of replacement heifers needs careful consideration. The question posed is an interesting one and the response comes with some caveats. In general, there’s not any downside to keeping a first-calf heifer’s calf as a replacement so long as the calf meets some key requirements. The goal is to select a replacement female that has the best chance of becoming a highly fertile cow with a long productive life. Like calves from older cows, the heifer calves that make the best candidates for replacements share these characteristics:

  • They were born early in the calving season
  • They fall in the middle of the calf crop in terms of adjusted 205-day weaning weight
  • They had an acceptable adjusted birth weight
  • They are in good condition

Daughters of first-calf heifers represent the most recent genetics in your herd. Therein lies the opportunity and the risk. Ideally, these replacement candidates should be the progeny of sires with high accuracy EPDs and that excel for traits like direct and maternal calving ease, stayability, heifer pregnancy and docility. These bulls should be screened for acceptable levels of milk, growth and mature size determined by your production environment. Confidence in the selection of calves of first calf heifers is bolstered if the sire of the first-calf heifer meets the previous criteria. Selection of daughters of first-calf heifers from proven cow lines may also help abate risk. Calves sired by young, unproven sires represent the most genetic risk. The progeny of first-calf heifers whose sire was unproven also present risk.  If possible, select replacements from proven sire and dam lines to minimize genetic risk.


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