KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Rebuilding a beef cow herd to capture record-setting high prices is more than saving heifers to breed.

Dave Patterson, University of Missouri Extension beef specialist, said heifers need management – and new breeding technology.

Producers who do it right benefit in the long term. Patterson spoke to a national meeting of the American Society of Animal Science in Kansas City, July 23.

Patterson, developer of the Show-Me-Select Replacement Heifer Program, said management and genetics add value to heifers. In managed care, more heifers become pregnant, producing live calves and staying in a herd longer.

The heifer program was started to improve calving ease. That takes more than using calving-ease bulls.

Much management focuses on checking stages of puberty. That reveals when heifers are ready to breed.

Selecting heifers to save starts earlier. Only those from the first calves born in a calving season are saved. Calves from early-calving cows will likely become pregnant early, like their mothers.

More Missouri producers breed heifers according the SMS management plan, even if not enrolled, Patterson said.

Successful producers learn that Show-Me-Select heifers are worth more.

Recent SMS production sales show that Tier Two heifers, with stacked genetics, bring an average $407 premium. That’s above the high SMS base price.

“Repeat buyers drive up heifer prices,” Patterson said. “Those buyers learn the value of almost trouble-free calving.”

With managed breeding, calving seasons are shortened. Also, there’s less death loss.

Those enrolled in Show-Me-Select work with their regional MU Extension livestock specialist. Their local veterinarian becomes part of the management team.

“Pre-breeding exams show herd owners which heifers to breed – and which to feed out.”

By palpation of reproductive tract, vets learn the stage of puberty. The reproductive tract score (RTS) ranks heifers 1 to 5. Those scoring 1 are not saved to breed. Those prepubertal heifers develop late and might not breed.

Those scoring 4 or 5 are cycling, making them candidates for herd replacements. Added maturity of reproductive tract improves success.

Another part of pre-breeding includes measuring pelvic opening. Heifers with small pelvic openings aren’t bred.

Management doesn’t stop at breeding. Ninety days after breeding, a pregnancy check tells of success. Those not bred go to the feedlot. That’s more profitable than waiting nine months to find a heifer wasn’t bred.

The vet helps with year-round health, a part of the plan. The extra effort pays big dividends. Nutrition needs attention also. Heifers must be gaining weight before breeding and calving.

“There’s lots of known management tips and technology,” Patterson told his peers. “Having them in a written plan makes work easier for producers.

“It sounds confusing.  But it is not rocket science.”

The SMS “Missouri Recipe” is one sheet of paper printed front and back. 

“When we first worked with producers, I was shocked that few had a breeding plan,” Patterson said. With a plan, herd owners can aim to have every cow, and heifer, bred, leading to a live calf to sell. All of that happens within one year.

Missouri producers learned the value of timed artificial insemination, which gives herd owners access to top proven AI sires. Breeding all cows, or heifers, on one day shortens calving seasons. Resulting uniformity of calves adds value for feeders.

Heifer marketing in spring and fall SMS sales adds value by attracting buyers. Heifers have sold into 95 percent of Missouri counties. Also, Missouri heifers have sold into 18 states.

“Many buyers quit developing their own replacements to buy them at Show-Me-Select sales,” Patterson said.

The SMS program keeps adding value. A computerized database gives feedback.

“The system works,” Patterson told animal scientists. “There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Other states starting heifer programs base them on the Missouri Recipe.”

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