By Adele Harty
South Dakota State University
With the current economic conditions in the cattle industry, ranchers may want to take a second look at their plan for herd replacements. Current prices will have some people re-thinking decisions to retain heifers and decide to sell them and capitalize on the exceptional prices instead. Below are some things to consider when evaluating the options. Remember that there is no “one size fits all” answer for the best decision about retaining versus purchasing heifers, but being proactive and making the decision that is the most economically viable for the operation will benefit the ranch in the long run. Consider the answers to the questions below to determine what opportunities may be best for your operation.
—What is the current economic situation? What price could you receive for your heifer calves if they were sold rather than retained? What are the projected prices for purchasing bred heifers? Complete a partial budget to determine how much money you can put into the calves in terms of feed, health and breeding costs to be the equivalent of purchasing bred heifers. These calves will be 2 years old before they have their first calf—is there opportunity in selling them and purchasing bred heifers?
—Genetics are important in the ranching industry and often a reason for retaining heifers rather than purchasing them. However, one should ask the question, “Can I purchase heifers of equal or greater genetic merit than the ones I raise?” If the answer is yes, selling heifer calves and purchasing bred heifers could be an option. If not, heifers will need to be retained.
—If you choose to purchase heifers, find out what the herd health program is. Is it similar to your current herd health program? Will the heifers need additional vaccinations once they are added to the herd? Are there other health concerns that should be addressed prior to purchasing the cattle? Do the research and determine the health history of the herd and how the animals will fit with your herd regarding health. For biosecurity, have a system in place to quarantine these animals, prior to co-mingling them with the main herd. This will help alleviate potential problems and contain any that may appear after purchase.
The take home message is to evaluate your specific situation and determine where you have opportunity and risk and the best means for minimizing risk and maximizing opportunity. You may come to the conclusion that you have always retained heifers and you need to continue that, but then again, you may find that there are superior heifers available for sale that can advance the herd genetically and are more economical than retaining your own. Evaluate the big picture to make the most economically viable decision for the operation.