Heifers: To Keep or To Cull

Sep 07, 2020

Tara Jo Bina
Livestock Nutrition Specialist
Selecting replacement heifers is a very important task for any cow calf producer since keeping and breeding your best genetics is one of the most economical ways to improve your herd! When deciding which animals to keep for breeding and which are to be sold there are several tools available to both commercial and seed stock producers! Here are a few suggestions of things to consider when selecting your replacement females.
  1. Know your goals
Knowing what you want your herd to look like in the future is a great tool in selecting replacement females. Using this vision in your favor can help weed out animals you may have otherwise kept. For example, if you would like to bring the average frame size of your herd down, selecting large framed females would be working against this goal.
  1. Use records
Performance records: Recorded birth weights, weaning weights, pelvic measurements, reproductive scores, etc. can be indicators of a female’s genetic potential for growth. If females are not meeting growth benchmarks you have set for your operation, they are good candidates for culling.
Health records: Females that have been treated for diseases multiple times are also not good replacements. Generally, these animals have suppressed immune systems and do not meet their genetic potential.
Other relevant records: Depending on the species and your goals several other records are good to keep for reference. For instance, in sheep and goats, considering if a female was a twin may be a good idea.
  1. Dam’s reputation
Considering the performance of a heifer’s dam can provide insight to her potential. Thinking about her disposition, udder and teat quality, ability to maintain body condition, milking ability, maternal instinct, previous calves’ performance, etc. can be a good predictor of how a young female will transition into your herd.
  1. Visual evaluation
The criteria most people think of in selecting replacement females is visual evaluation.
Structural correctness: Breeding structurally sound animals can promote the longevity of cows in your herd. Animals that cannot travel a pasture or handle confinement situations do not perform well and pass these negative characteristics on to their calves as well.
Body capacity: A replacement female should have plenty of spring of rib or capacity. We need her to be able to carry a fetus and still be able to consume enough feed to support her own body condition.
Muscle: All cattle are ultimately involved in the beef industry. Ensuring females are passing along adequate muscle to their offspring allows you to continue to be successful in producing marketable animals.
Femininity: Females should look like females. Blocky, masculine heifers are more likely to have infertility and maternal problems.
For more information on criteria for selecting the right heifers to keep in your herd and how to raise them to meet their genetic potential, contact your Countryside Feed representative!

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