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Top three traits to consider when buying replacement females

published: March 19th 2021
by: Caitlin Richards

Purchasing replacement females is sometimes the best option economically and logistically, for some producers. The investment is usually high and with various options to consider, purchasing replacement heifers can seem overwhelming.
    Graduate Research As-sistant at University of Mis-souri, Carson Andersen gives some insight on what to look for when purchasing replacement females.  She shares the top three things to consider when buying – ability to conceive, visual appearance and genetic merit.
    “There’s not one trait that is going to make her the most successful re-placement heifer and then lead into her being a successful cow,” says Ander-sen. “There are multiple things that should be considered.”
Ability to conceive
    A heifer’s ability to conceive is one of the most important traits to consider. The actual selection of replacement heifers, An-dersen says, should happen at pregnancy diagnosis and not at weaning.
    “Heifers may look like they check all the boxes at weaning, and they might,” says Andersen. “However, if they fail to conceive early or at all during the breeding season, then she loses her potential to be a successful replacement hei-fer.”
    Conceiving early is particularly important when considering a heifer’s ability to conceive. Andersen explains research shows heifers that conceive early in their first breeding season stay in the herd longer and wean more total calves.
    “On the contrary, heif-ers that conceive late in the breeding season or calve later in the calving season are more likely to continue to conceive later in the following seasons or even fail to conceive at all, due to having a shorter postpartum interval than the heifers that calved earlier,” says Andersen.
    Andersen explains the long-term result could be economically detrimental because calving later in the calving season means the heifers will wean a younger and therefore lighter calf. She suggests evaluating the date of birth and recommends only considering heifers who were born in the first half of their calving season. Heifers born earlier will be older and likely heavier at weaning, and therefore have a higher rate of puberty prior to the start of breeding season. 
    “The older heifers are going to be more likely to conceive early in the breeding season compared to the younger heifers that might not have attained puberty at the start of the breeding program,” says Andersen.
    Other than birth date, producers can have their veterinarian perform re-productive tract scores for a more direct indication of pubertal status, says An-dersen. Some breeders already provide this but producers can ask for the evaluation to be done.
    “An evaluation usually happens four to six weeks prior to the start of the breeding season,” says Andersen. “The veterinarian will palpate the heifer’s reproductive tracts and give them a score on a scale of one to five as a direct evaluation of her reproductivity maturity.”
    Anderson explains hei-fers with a score of one have infertile tracks, meaning a very low possibility of attaining puberty prior to the breeding season. Heifers with a score of two are peripubertal and are estimated to be over 30 days from reaching puberty. A score of three is also a peripubertal heifer, but they are closer to attaining puberty within 30 days.
    A heifer with a four or five score has reached puberty and is ready for breeding, Anderson continues. During the exam, Andersen says a veterinarian can measure the pelvic area of the heifer to make sure it is an adequate size to avoid dystocia.
Visual appearance
    When selecting replacement females, the tendency can be to purchase the biggest, fleshiest heifers. Bigger is not always better, Andersen says. Selection should not be based on how fleshy or large frame a heifer is.
    “A large frame heifer will usually mean a large frame cow, and that’s just not ideal from an efficiency standpoint,” says Ander-sen. “It also means she will not always produce a bigger calf just because she’s a bigger heifer.”
    When assessing the visual appearance, Ander-sen suggests evaluating their structural soundness, disposition and general health. A structurally sound heifer is important to be able to carry a calf and smoothly get the calf on the ground during calving. Avoid selecting any with obvious footing problems or unbalanced frames.
    The disposition of the heifers should be calm and gentle to allow producers to handle their herd with ease. Even one wild heifer can stir up the rest of the herd causing a headache for producers. Overall general health, the heifer should appear healthy, be up-to-date on vaccinations and be in good body condition.
Genetic merit
    With an open market, producers can choose from a variety of heifers to add to their herd. The options can almost be overwhelming. It also gives producers a great opportunity to improve their operation and herd.
    “A big plus of buying heifers is  the opportunity to bring in some superior genetics or quality from outsource operations instead of what you have in your own herd,” says Andersen. “So, you can add a lot of productivity by doing that.”
    Producers should consider the goals of their operations  to decide what genetics they need to purchase to add to the herd. It can range from a specific breed with strong maternal traits to a herd with a data showing strong weaning weights and performance. The top EPDs An-dersen suggests evaluating are calving ease maternal, heifer pregnancy and stay-ability. Calving ease maternal is represented as a percent analysis of unassisted births for the first calving daughter.
    “It is particularly important to consider with re-placement heifers because this group on the farm is going to have the highest chance of experiencing dystocia,” says Andersen. “It is a very important EPD to select for.”
    Heifer pregnancy EPD predicts the probability a bull’s daughter will become pregnant as a first-calf heifer in a regular breeding season. Again, ability to conceive is a top trait to consider and the heifer pregnancy EPD strengthens the analysis on a replacement heifer. Stay-ability EPD predicts the genetic difference in terms of the present probability that a bull’s daughter will stay productive within a herd.
    “We want these heifers to stay in the herd as long as possible,” says Andersen, “so they can make back the money that was spent on investing in them.”
    Overall, Andersen en-courages producers to purchase heifers that will add productivity and profitability to their herd. This can be done by purchasing heifers that compliment the herd and by bringing in EPDs to improve the productivity and profitability of the herd.

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