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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: REDUCING COST OF EFFICIENT BEEF PRODUCTION Title: Heifer Development – Then and Now

Authors
item Funston, Rick -
item Martin, Jeremy -
item Roberts, Andrew

Submitted to: Meeting Proceedings
Publication Type: Proceedings
Publication Acceptance Date: October 31, 2009
Publication Date: December 3, 2009
Citation: Funston, R., Martin, J., Roberts, A.J. 2009. Heifer Development – Then and Now. Meeting Proceedings 2009 Pacific Northwest Animal Nutrition Conference October 6-8, Boise, ID.

Interpretive Summary: Traditional approaches for postweaning development of replacement heifers used during the last several decades have primarily focused on feeding heifers to achieve or exceed an appropriate target weight, and thereby maximize heifer pregnancy rates. However, substantial changes in cattle genetics and the economy have occurred over this time, indicating traditional approaches should be re-evaluated. Intensive heifer development systems may maximize pregnancy rates, but not necessarily optimize profit or sustainability. Developing heifers in this manner requires significant use of fossil fuels and cereal grains, and high capital investment in equipment and facilities. The fuel requirement to harvest feed and deliver it to cattle creates high energy demands in this development system. Cereal grains, often used as a major energy source in heifer diets, detract from the system’s sustainability due to growing demand for human food and ethanol production. Separate ongoing studies at the University of Nebraska and Fort Keogh have been evaluating lifetime productivity of heifers developed under restricted nutrient inputs during the postweaning period. Results from both studies indicate that developing heifers to lower target weights than those traditionally recommended (50 to 55 vs. 60 % of mature body weight at time of breeding) reduced feed costs during the postweaning period by $22 per heifer and improved efficiency throughout the postweaning period and subsequent grazing season without detrimental effects on reproductive performance.

Technical Abstract: Traditional approaches for postweaning development of replacement heifers used during the last several decades have primarily focused on feeding heifers to achieve or exceed an appropriate target weight, and thereby maximize heifer pregnancy rates. However, substantial changes in cattle genetics and the economy have occurred over this time, indicating traditional approaches should be re-evaluated. Intensive heifer development systems may maximize pregnancy rates, but not necessarily optimize profit or sustainability. Developing heifers in this manner requires significant use of fossil fuels and cereal grains, and high capital investment in equipment and facilities. The fuel requirement to harvest feed and deliver it to cattle creates high energy demands in this development system. Cereal grains, often used as a major energy source in heifer diets, detract from the system’s sustainability due to growing demand for human food and ethanol production. Separate ongoing studies at the University of Nebraska and Fort Keogh have been evaluating lifetime productivity of heifers developed under restricted nutrient inputs during the postweaning period. Results from both studies indicate that developing heifers to lower target weights than those traditionally recommended (50 to 55 vs. 60 % of mature body weight at time of breeding) reduced feed costs during the postweaning period by $22 per heifer and improved efficiency throughout the postweaning period and subsequent grazing season without detrimental effects on reproductive performance.

Last Modified: 11/22/2014
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