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Selecting Replacement Heifers

High-quality replacement heifers are a big investment for the cow-calf producer. Whether bought or home-raised, these females are the genetic building blocks for the herd. They will be expected to produce and wean a calf every year for many years.

The selection process begins at weaning when heifers are typically six-to-eight-months old.

David Lalman is an extension beef cattle specialist at Oklahoma State University. He says there are many factors that go into the decision, but he recommends selecting heifers that were born early and bred early.

"Those two things tell you that the management and the genetics of that animal line up pretty well, and those animals are a reasonable fit for their environment," says Lalman. "So, just something as simple as selecting early-born heifers and retaining the early-bred heifers over time can improve the fertility in a commercial cow-calf operation substantially."

Consider females that have enough body condition to be healthy but aren’t too fat or very thin. Another factor should be the animal’s temperament. Docility is an important trait.

"That’s a characteristic that you can identify early on, and probably a good time to assess that is at weaning," he says. "You know, when the animals are being sorted and as they’re being processed for vaccinations through the chute. Producers should be able to get a pretty good assessment of those heifers that are difficult to handle, excitable, and so on."

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