Protect your investment in beef replacement heifers

After reaching historically low numbers in recent years, the U.S. cattle herd is on its way back.

“There are parts of the country coming into green again that haven’t been able to run cattle for several years, or who need to increase herd numbers,” says Mac Devin, DVM, Professional Services Veterinarian with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica, Inc. “It’s exciting to see the industry building back up.”

Healthy market prices for beef, plenty of feedlot space and strong export demand also are fueling the rebound, says Devin, who is based in College Station, Texas.

But he adds that rebuilding herds can be a costly proposition, noting that replacement heifers and bred cows also are making history with near-record-high prices. Depending on region, bred replacement heifers are bringing upward of $1,200 per head; bred cows $1,650 or more; and bred cows with calves $2,000 or more per pair. For producers purchasing these animals, Devin says it make sense to protect their investments to ensure that they make a positive addition to the herd.

“Cattle coming from different regions of the country may carry with them their own unique disease experience,” he advises.  “For example, we know that BVD tends to mutate, and animals can be exposed, develop immunity to that local strain, and bring the disease under control  But new animals won’t necessarily have that same natural immunity, plus they may be carrying their own, unique strains. Suddenly, you’ve got two sets of animals exposed to novel BVD strains, and the potential for a major disaster.”

To prevent situations like this and otherwise capture the full value of replacement heifers, Devin advises:

(1)    Whenever possible, purchase heifers with known history of their herd of origin, vaccination status and genetic background.

(2)   Quarantine new animals for at least 30 days and observe daily to detect expression of clinical disease.

(3)   Working with your herd veterinarian, establish a vaccination protocol for incoming animals to protect against potential disease outbreaks.

(4)   Consider asking your veterinarian to perform reproductive tract scoring and pelvic scoring of every new heifer to minimize breeding failure and/or calving difficulty.

Devin advises that such receiving vaccination programs should include, along with IBR, BVD, BRSV and PI-3, coverage of diseases specific to the local environment, such as leptospirosis and Red Water Disease. “Be sure to choose BVD vaccines that have enough antigenic diversity to protect against strains that may be introduced with herd additions,” he adds.

Both Pyramid® and Express® FP vaccines offer such diversity, while providing a wide range of coverage options.  Devin says for heifers, vaccinating with Express® FP 5-VL5 at 90 days pre-breeding, with a second dose at 30 to 40 days pre-breeding, provides a broad insurance policy against diseases that could otherwise interfere with achieving pregnancy, fetal viability and heifer performance.  And, if trichomoniasis is in the neighborhood, vaccinating incoming heifers with TrichGuard® also is advised.

Be sure to read and follow label directions on all vaccines to ensure correct storage conditions; preparation; dose; route of administration; and administration interval.

“Heifers possess the most modern genetics, are generally the most fertile, and represent the future of the herd,” says Devin.  “It’s important to protect them to fully capture that progress.”


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