With decreasing cattle numbers across the country, quality replacement heifers are becoming more important than ever. “Replacement heifers give you the opportunity to improve the genetics in your operation,” says Jaymelynn Farney, assistant professor and Extension livestock specialist at Kansas State University. “If you keep the same cow over and over, you’re not making any genetic progress.”
This year, KSU Extension is launching the Sunflower Supreme replacement heifer program in southeast Kansas. The goal is to provide producers “best management” guidelines for replacement heifers and provide education for the improvements in revenue, reproductive success, and longevity within their cattle operation. “Indirectly, it will help everybody with marketing,” Farney notes. “They can put some thought into putting together sets of cattle that will be of interest for other people to buy.”
Heifer program requirements
A big part of the program’s requirements is health. This means proper vaccinations and timing of vaccinations as a calf, during or right before weaning, before breeding, and at the time of initial pregnancy check. A Bovine Viral Diarrhea Persistent Infection, BVD-PI test must also be completed, and only negative heifers can be enrolled. There are also certain guidelines to meet before breeding, including weight, body condition score, and a breeding soundness examination.
Bulls will be approved by a local extension agent based on Expected Progeny Differences, or EPD numbers for desirable traits, and accuracy requirements of those traits. Whether using artificial insemination or natural service sires, the breeding season can only be a total of 60 days.
A key part of the program’s sire selection guidelines is minimizing calving difficulty. Eligible sires must have a known I.D. and be registered with their respective breed association, using official EPDs reported by the respective breed registry. “We’re very concerned about trying to minimize calving difficulty,” Farney notes. “We believe Calving Ease Direct is by far the best indicator of calving ease in first-calf heifers.”
However, Farney notes the program is not just about single-trait selection. “You want to make sure you have a nice, balanced set of EPDs,” she explains. “Beef producers have been very good about using low birth weight, high-growth bulls.”
Learning to understand EPDs and specific traits will be a key part of the program. This way, producers can have more effective discussions with veterinarians on checking things like pelvic size and shape and their relation to calving ease. “This is an educational program as well,” Farney adds. “Having that education to help bring you into the top 25% of producers is what we’re hoping to accomplish.”
The initial pregnancy examination must occur within 90 days after the start of breeding season with a follow-up confirmation 30 to 45 days prior to the sale. The expected calving date should be determined and reported with the sale.
How the program started
The program got started when Governor Sam Brownback was touring the area, and noticed the Show-Me-Select heifer program in Missouri. “He noticed Missouri had a very successful beef program, and said, ‘Why don’t we have this in Kansas?'” Farney says.
Noticing a high demand for replacement heifers, Kansas State University Extension got involved to help with science-based management techniques to provide guidance. And southeast Kansas is a prime location, with a large diversity of breeds of cattle and rangeland.
It also has some of the highest beef cow numbers in the state. Labette County on the Oklahoma border has the second most in the state, with 27,000 head in 2012, while Marion County had 25,500 head, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. “There is lots of farming here, but if you can’t farm the ground, what goes in the ground? Cattle,” Farney notes. “There is such a large population of beef cows in this part of the country.”
To enroll, visit your local county Extension agent. Questions can be answered by your local Extension agent or by Farney at firstname.lastname@example.org