There is a positive factor in all this; the heifers are still young and have value on the feeder market. Most of them are at an age where they can still go into the feedlot and be finished.
Practice good herd management, cull them early
On the average operation, a producer is going to keep around 15 to 20 percent of the herd as replacement heifers. Those heifers will be gathered at the end of the season and pregnancy tested. According to Glenn Selk, a retired Oklahoma State University beef specialist, it is a highly rare case for all those replacement heifers to be bred.
“There is going to be a percentage of them that didn’t conceive for whatever reason,” Selk says. “A 90 percent breed-up on most heifers at that age is acceptable, and not a disappointment.”
No matter how much money is spent on synchronization and artificial insemination and a battery of clean-up bulls, some heifers will just not catch. Selk says there is still hope to make money on her at the sale barn.
“She is going to be approaching about 18 months by the time we determine, nope, she didn’t get bred,” Selk says. “If we get her sold then, she’s still young enough that a feedlot buyer could take those to a feedlot, feed them out, and those heifers will still be young enough to go into the Choice grade – if genetically capable.”
Selk guarantees the feedlot buyers will know the potential in those heifers. They are willing to buy them, just like they would a regular yearling. The price-per-pound will be higher at that point than it will be for the same heifer a year later and after she doesn’t calve in the spring. At that point in time, she is just another open cow.
“That business at being able to market them at an age where they can go into a feedlot, be fed for three months and still be young enough to grade Choice is pretty critical,” Selk says. “Where as if we wait another six months, now we’ve got a 2.5-year-old. You’re going to receive a much lower price. Price discount because of her age will be so dramatic that it’s a straight across money-losing situation.”
With larger operations, the window for two different calving seasons is available. But rolling over a heifer into fall calving after she didn’t breed for spring is not the best idea, according to Selk.
“That looks like a feasible option,” Selk says. “Until you remember again that you’re working with something that didn’t get bred with its first attempts.”
Using up winter feed supplies on open females is a losing proposition, especially when there is a large number.
“When you look at the expense per cow, the rancher – in my opinion – by pregnancy checking and culling open heifers early can save several hundred dollars,” Selk says. “Even if he has two or three heifers that he needs to get out of there.”
Cody Sankey, an Indiana cattle producer, agrees it all comes down to dollars and cents.
“The most important trait in beef production is reproduction,” Sankey says. “If a cow or heifer doesn’t show up bred at the end of the year, she’s just costing you money.”
Sankey and his wife operate an Angus seedstock operation in east central Indiana. Reproductive traits are extremely important to them. They utilize artificial insemination with clean-up bulls to ensure nothing slips through the cracks.
“We know the hardest thing to get rebred are first-calf heifers,” Sankey says. “So if you don’t start them early as a heifer, they are behind their whole life.”
Sankey suggests it comes down to overall herd management. Clearly something is wrong with the reproductive functions of the heifer, so why continue to feed them?
“I don’t think it’s wise cow herd management to try to continue to rebreed and rebreed heifers if they had multiple chances and exposed to a bull,” Sankey says. “Something’s not right there.”
Herd management practices vary between areas and operation sizes, but deciding what to cull will always be one of the difficult decisions producers face industry-wide.
“Every year is different,” Sankey says. “But those ones that aren’t doing what they are supposed to, they find their way out. Those are the difficult decisions to make.”
Jamie Hawley is a freelance writer based in Ohio. Email Jamie Hawley.
PHOTO: Preg checking and culling heifers early can save producers money each year. Photo by Jamie Hawley.