Category Archives: Developing

Developing Replacement Heifers

Roadblocks to Ranch Profitability

Here Are Eight Biggest Roadblocks to Ranch Profitability

The Grazier’s Art

Step one is to open your mind to change and add new ideas.

Published on: June 19, 2014

By Jim Elizondo

I took part in a discussion the other day on the biggest roadblocks to improving ranch profitability. Experience and logic tells me there are eight common problems.

Here’s my list:

1. Lack of interest in learning correct grazing management. This can increase profits by two to three times.

2. Lack of interest in learning marketing knowledge. This can be another way to greatly increase profits.

3. Lack of interest in learning low-stress stockmanship. This is a proven way to reduce medicine costs and have higher performance.

4. Lack of interest in protein supplementation when it’s needed or cost effective. Well-applied supplementation in certain environments can eliminate hay feeding and thus save around $100 per cow per year, particularly for people using low octane/high fiber stockpiled forages.

5. An incorrect mineral program leads to inefficiency in forage utilization in places where there are mineral imbalances and forages with poor mineral content.

6. Unadapted genetics: The more challenging the environment the more important it is to have adapted genetics.

7. High-octane genetics in low-octane forage environments is always a mistake. High-octane forages are those with moderate growth which hold quality well. Low-octane environments are characteristically high-growth environments with much lignification of the forages.

8. Use of outdated or unprofitable traditions. Usually it’s characterized by a phrase like, “We have always done it like this.” A closed mind is like a closed parachute, it won’t work until you open it.”

Solving these issues is the crux of the Regenerative Grazing schools taught by Johann Zietsman and me. You can learn more about these upcoming schools on my website.

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Don’t rock the boat while breeding heifers

Original article by S.L. Lake, R. Arias, P. Gunn, and G.A. Bridges, from 2013 Range Beef Cow Symposium
Nutrition During the 21 Days Post Breeding: Maternal recognition of pregnancy takes place around day15-17 post-insemination and that transporting animals near this time compromises conception. However, moving heifers within the first 5 days post-insemination does not cause this reduction. Although, research suggests that conception rates are compromised when heifers are placed on early growth pasture forages. Researchers hypothesized that feeding this high moisture pasture forage at turnout is limiting dry matter intake which in turn causes a temporary energy deficiency that results in temporary heifer weight loss during the critical stages of early embryonic development and maternal recognition of pregnancy. Therefore, it is beneficial to ensure heifers maintain the same plane of nutrition after breeding, at least until day 25 when the embryo should be completely attached to the uterus. If this is true, maintaining a positive plane of nutrition on heifers after breeding will increase 1st service conception rates, improving herd fertility and longevity.
Some spring-born heifers are developed from weaning to breeding in a dry-lot pens. Estrous synchronization and AI may be conducted while in the dry-lot to take advantage of proximity to corral/breeding facilities. Following AI, heifers are may be moved to pastures to expose them to clean-up bulls. The researches hypnotized (Lake et al. 2013) this shift in diet quality and quantity of nutrients, may negatively impact metabolism, body weight gains, and ultimately reproductive efficiency.
Investigators at Purdue University and the University of Wyoming jointly examined the role of post-insemination nutrition on AI pregnancy rates in beef t two locations (Purdue; n = 53, Wyoming; n = 99) heifers were fed at 125% of NRC maintenance requirements (approximate ADG of 1.5 lbs/d) from weaning until estrous synchronization and AI. Immediately following estrous synchronization and AI, feed delivery to heifers was tightly controlled as heifers were specifically fed diets formulated to:
1) 125% of maintenance requirements
2) 100% of maintenance requirements
or 3) 80% of maintenance requirements
Heifers remained on these diets for 21 days following AI. Heifers that returned to estrus during the 21-day dietary treatment were inseminated and following the conclusion of the dietary treatment all heifers were comingled and placed with fertile bulls. Pregnancy diagnosis was conducted at 30 days post-AI to determine pregnancy success following the initial AI and 30 days after the breeding season to determine 2nd service AI pregnancy rates and overall breeding season pregnancy rates.
Analyses revealed that heifers that were fed to continue their pre-breeding plane of nutrition (125% maintenance) for 21 days post-AI had greater (P = 0.04) AI pregnancy rates compared to both groups of heifers that had a decrease in dietary plane of nutrition (100% maintenance and 80% maintenance). In addition, heifers in the 100% NRC and 80% treatments had decreased (P < 0.05) 2nd service AI pregnancy rates and decreased (P < 0.05) overall breeding season pregnancy rates. If heifers are transitioned to pasture immediately following AI are supplemented with a concentrated feedstuff such as distillers grains to prevent post-AI weight loss, pregnancy rates are not negatively impacted.
Embryo Quality: It was hypothesized that day 6 embryos collected from heifers that were fed restricted, sub-maintenance diets would have poor embryo quality. This study was conducted at the University of Minnesota and South Dakota State University (SDSU). All heifers were on a common diet during development. Estrus was synchronized and timed-AI was conducted. On the day of AI, heifers were placed in one of two nutritional treatments:
1) 120% maintenance requirements
2) 80% maintenance requirements
1) 125% maintenance requirements
2) 50% maintenance requirements
Dietary treatments were fed until embryo collection was done using non-surgical embryo flush techniques six days after AI. Recovered embryos were microscopically evaluated and graded on a 1 to 5 scale (1 = excellent, 2 = good, 3 = fair, 4 = poor, and 5 = degenerate) to evaluate embryo quality.
Results across both locations were combined to illustrate the effects of nutrient restriction on early embryonic development. Nutrient restriction immediately following AI resulted in poorer quality embryos that were developmentally retarded as indicated by being at an earlier stage of development and having fewer total blastomeres In addition, embryos from nutrient restricted heifers had a decreased (P = 0.01) percentage of live blastomeres.
These results suggest that the early embryo, oviduct, and uterus are sensitive to immediate changes in nutrition. Nutritional inputs to reproducing beef cows must be managed to allow for the animal to be in a positive energy balance. However the researchers indicated caution is warranted as over-nutrition may also compromise various reproductive parameters.
Source: Ohio Beef Cattle Letter

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Repeatability of calving difficulty

July 08, 2014 12:20 pm • By Glenn Selk, Extension Animal Scientist Emeritus, Oklahoma State University(0) Comments
Many producers are looking back through their calving books to re-examine the most recent calving season and determine if improvements can be made between now and next spring. At a recent Oklahoma Extension event, a cow/calf producer asked the time-honored question: “If a heifer has calving difficulty this year, what is the likelihood that she will have trouble again next year?”

A look back through the scientific literature sheds some light on this subject. Research conducted by Colorado State University and published in 1973 looked at parturition records of 2733 Hereford calves sired by 123 bulls and born to 778 cows/heifers. (Source: Brinks, et al. Journal of Animal Science 1973 Vol. 36 pp 11-17). A repeatability estimate was obtained from heifers calving both as 2- and 3-year-olds. The estimate was 4.5 percent. Of 195 heifers which had no difficulty in calving at two years of age, 7.2 percent had difficulty as 3-year-olds. Of the 77 two-year old heifers which experienced calving difficulty, 11.7 percent had difficulty again as 3-year-olds.

Heifers that experienced calving difficulty as 2-year-olds weaned 59 percent of calves born, whereas, those having no difficulty weaned 70 percent of calves born. Calving difficulty as 2-year-olds affected the number of calves weaned when 3 years of age and also the weaning weight of those calves. Heifers having calving difficulty as 2-year-olds weaned a 63 percent calf crop as 3-year-olds. Heifers having no difficulty as 2 years-olds weaned a 77 percent calf crop as three-year-olds.

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Breeding replacement heifers

I know some of you have been calving, in many cases first calf heifers, during this terrible cold and snowy weather. I realize that cattlemen have had a tremendous work load and stress during this time as the cold east winds just wouldn’t relinquish its grip and unless the new born calves were not attended to immediately some would chill to the point that they couldn’t stand and nurse on their own. I know some have experienced loss but if only those that are critical of us in the cattle business only knew the effort that is put forth to save every calf it would boggle their mind. We not only do it because it is our livelihood but more important we do it because we care deeply concerned about our livestock and their welfare.

Almost every publication and news report talks about the price or value of our cattle and often addresses the topic of rebuilding the cow herd in the United States. Even we have a lot of positive signs to rebuild we still have several parts of the United States that are experiencing drought and in some cases severe snow storms and therefore it appears the rebuilding of the cattle herd may be modest at best. This makes it even more attractive down the road if we have the resources to grow our own cow herd now. We do see considerable more interest in this region retaining and developing replacement heifers. Calls and watching the price of high quality bangs vaccinated heifers tells me we will see considerable rebuilding in this area.

Most decisions have been made on the feeding and management program to develop the heifers, however some time remains for tweaking the system. Obviously if the heifers have not been gaining enough there is still time to catch them up to a desired target weight for breeding For years it was routinely recommended to develop the heifers to achieve 65 percent of their expected mature weight at breeding time or if a heifer that was expected to mature to 1,300 pounds then she should weigh at least 845 pounds to assure good reproduction. Some still make that recommendation which does assure good reproductive performance however research now shows that this often results in a more expensive program than is needed. Ten to 12 years ago Dr. Gene Duetcher now retired from the University of Nebraska West Central Research and Extension Center challenged the 65 percent recommendation and developed some heifers to be bred near 50 percent of their mature weight or close to 200 pounds lighter. Their data found the heifers had very acceptable breeding performance and were developed with much less cost. This work has been followed up by Dr. Rick Funston reproductive specialist, University of Nebraska West Central Research and Extension Center and he writes and speaks on this concept frequently. Dr. Funston states that costs can be cut to least $100 per heifer without sacrificing reproduction plus any open heifer can be sold at a lower breakeven.

The question often arises as the most desirable way to breed heifers. By far the majority of first calf heifers are naturally mated however with innovation and lower labor synchronization programs many producers do use AI (Artificial Insemination) in conjunction with synchronization.

Natural mating is still a viable option especially with increased technology to give more accurate ESDs (Estimated Progeny Differences) for calving ease plus other traits. We see far fewer “wrecks” today than in the past when at times hide color and/or breed seemed to be the major criteria for selecting bulls for breeding heifers. As a result of more attention focusing on EPDs to predict calving ease considerably less heifers are assisted at birth and certainly fewer C-sections.

There are still some major advantages of using proven sires for first calf heifers plus often we can also look at growth traits with accuracy and perhaps maternal and carcass weights. I have felt for years that proven bulls that excel in calving ease and maternal traits are excellent candidates for next year’s replacements. They are often the oldest heifers that are born in the first cycle of calving. Currently with sexed semen perhaps we even have greater opportunities to use this as a source of replacement heifers.

AI is much more feasible today with the use of synchronization programs that allow timed AI. Breed them on a break or week-end when the kids are home from college. One can also hire a nomadic crew that comes through on a given schedule; perhaps all you need to do it keep books when they are being bred. It seems that it is never that simple but fun to think that way. Currently there are many options available that allows a large percentage for the heifers to be bred to superior bulls in a short time period.

The two synchronizing programs that are very popular are the MGA – prostaglandin and the 7 day CIDR norgestmate (GnRH) program. Basically the oldest and perhaps the lowest cost is feeding MGA for 14 days and then giving a prostaglandin 19 days after the feeding of MGA. Breeding can then be done with heat detection or heat detection and breed for approximately 80 hours and then time breed anything not heat detected and give a shot of GnRH.

The 7 day CIDR works similar however the CIDR’s are taken out on day 7 and a prostaglandin is administered at that time of CIDR removal. The heifer can then be heat detected up to 80 hours or some simply breed every heifer between 72 – 84 hours and at the time of breeding each heifer is given an injection of GnRH. The MGH program requires initiation 33 days ahead of time to start breeding while the 7 day CIDR program can be done with less time of initiating the synchronization program. Sound complex and confusing? Help is available in many places. Almost all sire catalogs have these and variations of these programs published in their catalog. Need some help in planning? An excellent spreadsheet planning aid can be downloaded from Iowa States Beef Center web site All you have to do is put in the date you want to breed and select the program you want to utilize and it will fill in the dates to carry out each procedure. A reproduction web site also has considerable information on breeding programs. Semen sales representatives and beef extension specialists will also be helpful resources. Best of luck as you make breeding decisions. Also as many go into calving take care and be safe in those low rest times.

Ivan G. Rush is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Nebraska.

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Building Better Beef Replacement Heifers

Written by Dr. Jim White and Mike John
Thursday, 01 March 2012 20:40

Feed them right early and have them at breeding weight in time

The goal for selecting replacement heifers is simple—you want them to conceive, calve early in the calving season, provide adequate milk production and produce a calf every year. But much of what makes a good replacement heifer begins long before you begin to eye the keepers. Dam nutrition has distinct and long-term implications for replacement heifers.

Heifer development is influenced by how the cow carrying the heifer was fed prior to the heifer being born. While you are familiar with the challenges of calf vigor born to dams calving thin, you might not know about studies that show how appropriate protein supplementation to late-gestation cows has a lasting effect on heifers.

Work at the University of Nebraska looked at the effects of nutrition of dams on growth and reproductive performance of their heifer calves. One group of last-trimester cows got a pound of 40-percent protein supplement three times a week, the control group didn’t. In the study, cows were managed similarly during calving and breeding. The research lasted three years—long enough for researchers to get a good look at the effects of feeding an appropriate protein supplement to late-gestation cows. Results showed that supplementing cows with protein during late gestation made for heavier heifers at weaning and breeding. Moreover, the heifers from protein-supplemented dams had higher pregnancy rates and earlier calving dates.

Aside from successful nutrition during gestation, pre-weaning management of heifer calves influences lifetime productivity. Heifers should be programmed to calve early during their first calving season. They will tend to calve early and wean heavier calves throughout their lifetime. Poorly developed heifers will fail to conceive or will calve late the first year and wean lighter calves.

Many of the heifers that calve late will be open after a limited breeding season.
With that in mind, there are several goals to work toward when developing heifers. Hopefully they will: 1) reach puberty by 12 to 14 months of age; 2) achieve high percentage for conceiving early in the breeding season; 3) be structurally large enough to minimize dystocia.
Due to the record-high value of feeder heifers and the high cost of developing replacement heifers, it makes sense to pay attention to genetic factors when selecting and breeding replacement heifers.

As stated above, selecting potential replacements from heifers born early in the calving season will make it easier to assure that they do the same when they calve.
Along those lines, the cost of using proven AI sires can be justified in the immediate added value of offspring from the insemination. And, it will pay in other ways in the future. One way this practice proves its future value is that heifers that conceive to AI have proven their ability to conceive early under a process that often has a lower conception rate than natural service. Odds are high that she will continue to do so in future years. Plus, bull calves from the AI services should be heavier and have predictable performance based on high accuracy EPDs. There are also well-documented advantages for multi-generational “stacking” of those predictable traits in future replacement heifers.

Feeding Replacement Heifers

Develop a ration geared toward adequate growth, not fattening. Given typical weaning ages, medium-frame heifers need to gain about 1.5 pounds per head daily from weaning to breeding. Large-framed continental breeds and crosses need to gain more than 1.5 pounds daily. Puberty is a function of both age and weight, so rate of gain can vary during the development period. Just make sure heifers reach the desired weight and appropriate body composition before breeding time.

To ensure that all heifers reach these weights before breeding, feed them separately from the cow herd. If possible, sort according to size. Smaller heifers require a more nutrient-dense diet and a higher rate of intake to attain target weights in the same timeframe as larger heifers. Remember that feeding replacement heifers similarly to terminal heifers will push the replacements heavier than they need to be—a costly proposition these days. Moreover, heifers that gain too fast have a tendency to have lower lifetime productivity, another costly proposition.

To determine the average daily gain needed for a group of heifers, subtract their average weight from the desired weight at breeding, and then divide by the number of days of feeding before the start of the breeding season.

Most heifers need to gain 1 to 1.5 pounds per day during the feeding period. Nutrient requirements for growing heifers to gain at these rates are listed in the nearby at right. These requirements are based on neutral conditions. Housing and other environmental conditions drastically influence the energy requirement of the animals.

Many combinations of feeds can be used for growing heifers—as long as intake and nutrient composition are appropriate. If you have to allow for error, it is better to overfeed protein than to overfeed energy. Heifers need to be grown rapidly but not fattened, so better-than-average forage should be offered. If heifers are on stockpiled pastures, they should be fed at least four to five pounds of Trendsetter Developer per head daily to attain the recommended weight gains; two to four pounds per head per day is the lower end of the feeding rate. Often, the feeding program can be divided into one of four scenarios: 1) the operation has a forage base; 2) the operation also has grain storage; 3) the operation uses grain co-products; 4) the operation uses corn or sorghum silages to develop heifers.

Taking periodic measurements of animal weight and height are helpful in determining if heifers are growing at the proper rate. Some cycling, estrus activity should be observed in the heifers by six weeks prior to the breeding season. If you don’t see estrus activity six weeks or so prior, it’s likely that the heifers are smaller than they need to be. If that’s the case, you have roughly a month to get enough weight on them so they will be cycling at breeding. If the situation arises in which you need to put on weight on a deadline, feed Full Throttle or Cattle Charge at two percent of bodyweight per head per day along with free-choice forage.

Dr. Jim White is ruminant nutritionist for MFA Incorporated. Mike John is director of MFA’s Health Track program.

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Buying vs Raising Heifers

PDF file of the most cussed and discussed subject on Bred Heifers.

Click Here

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Watch drought cycle before buying replacement cattle

MILANO – Even though parts of Texas have received beneficial rainfall, experts urge cattle producers to be cautious when thinking about restocking herds.

Dr. Larry Redmon, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service state forage specialist, told beef producers at the recent Central Texas Cow-Calf Clinic in Milano that 71 percent of the state is abnormally dry.

“We are in pretty good shape here in the Brazos Valley, but if you look at the data, about half of the state is in some type of drought conditions,” Redmon said. “This cycle started in 1995. These cycles last 22 to 25 years and we may not be out of this dry cycle until 2020. If you do the math, we’ve still got some potential for dry weather. You might want to be cautious about restocking or buying a bunch of cattle.”

Just like the dipstick to check the oil in an automobile, a soil test checks to see what nutrients are present and which are needed to grow forages. He advised producers to have a soil test taken on their pasture, especially with the price of fertilizer.

“We can’t do anything about the price of fertilizer, but we can do something about how efficiently we use those nutrients,” Redmon said. “Spend the $10 to get a soil test.”

Redmon said if you don’t fertilize Bermuda grass, it takes almost 20 inches of water to produce a ton of grass, but if you properly fertilize you can cut that amount of water almost in half.

To protect the grass, Redmon said you must control the weeds and allow sunlight to be captured by the green photosynthetic leaf tissue. For weed control, producers have options such as mechanical control or using herbicides. Mechanical shredding can cost as much as $15.24 per acre, while spraying herbicide is $11.57 per acre using a 30-foot boom sprayer.

Redmon also advised monitoring winter pastures, urging producers not to let winter grasses create a canopy above warm season grasses.  As nighttime temperatures approach 60 degrees, plan on having all winter pasture removed by either grazing or harvesting as hay.

Meanwhile, Dr. Davey Griffin, AgriLife Extension meat specialist and professor in the department of animal science at Texas A&M University, gave a virtual video tour of a packing facility. He said as a result of declines in beef cattle numbers, Texas packing plants have “tightened up” on the amount of meat processed, cutting back production schedules.

Producers viewed a load of finished cattle arriving at the facility and the many steps to process the carcass into the numerous cuts that make their way to consumers.

All carcasses are inspected throughout the process by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service, Griffin said. Though the processing aspect still requires many laborers on the floor, it has become a more mechanized system since there is such high volume to maintain profitability.  After laborers on the floor finishing processing the carcass, the various sub-primal cuts are vacuum packed and boxed – a process virtually automated in the larger plants.

Dr. Davey Griffin, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service meat specialist and professor in the department of animal science at Texas A&M, provided a video virtual tour of a beef packing facility at the Central Texas Cow-Calf Clinic in Milano recently. (Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service photo by Blair Fannin)

In the video, the boxes of meat cuts went through an automated machine that stacked them onto a pallet, where they were shrink-wrapped and staged for truck delivery to retail outlets.

“Literally, no carcasses leave plants today,” Griffin said. “They go in a box. Demand is so high for most of the product, they’ve found a home for most of that product either in our domestic market or in the numerous export markets that favor the uniformity and flavor of U.S. beef.”

Griffin said packers are looking to get as much value out of cuts as possible; putting meat through a grinder is the least desired option.


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