Selecting and Developing Replacement Heifers


Fall is the time of year when many cow-calf producers make their replacement heifer selections and begin planning for the development of those heifers into bred females. Following are some tips from University of Nebraska-Lincoln Beef Specialist Dr. Jim Gosey for selecting and developing replacement heifers.

Dr. Gosey suggests that first, producers consider removing heifers that are:

  • born late in the calving season (after the first 45 days)
  • from cows that needed assistance at calving
  • born to dams that have big teats or need help getting their calves to nurse
  • exceptionally small at weaning
  • nervous or have an attitude problem

After these heifers are removed, consider developing the rest and exposing them for a short breeding season (30-45 days). This will select for those heifers that are the most fertile. If the number of replacement heifers to be kept needs to be reduced, give special consideration to keeping daughters from older cows in the herd. The dams of these heifers have worked in your production environment.

UNL research has also found that heifers born in the first 21 days of the calving period generally have higher pregnancy rates and average daily gains, breed back better and have heavier calves.

UNL Extension Beef Reproduction Specialist Dr. Rick Funston suggests producers should consider developing replacement heifers employing a systems approach utilizing feed resources they will be expected to consume as mature cows.

Research from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and other universities has shown that heifers can be developed to 50-57% of their mature weight at breeding and not impair reproductive performance. However, it is critical that an appropriate level of nutrition is available prior to breeding and through calving to achieve these results.

Bred heifers are valuable and represent the future of your herd. Cost effectively developing heifers that will work in your production environment is critical.


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