Marketing Replacement Heifers - Questions to Consider

Buying replacement heifers can be an efficient way to source females. You buy what you need either ready to breed or already bred. You can manage your cow herd as one genetic unit and run more cows by purchasing females that provide you with the maternal traits you require. Then you can focus bull selection on those traits (Iike growth and carcass) that will produce desirable feeder calves. It seems easy enough to step out and buy the females you want but several cow-calf operators call annually looking for names of producers who have F1 or crossbred replacement heifers for sale.

photo of  heifer

Figure 1. Selling Replacement Heifers for Breeding Can Increase Returns

There are many straightbred herds in Ontario that could benefit from an ongoing relationship with another breeder looking to source replacement females. Heifer calves generally bring a discount in comparison to their steer calf contemporaries when sold through the feeder market. Crossing your straightbred herd with a second breed that is known for its maternal traits could provide you with additional options when it comes to marketing your calves. The resulting crossbred calves would benefit from heterosis (hybrid vigour) resulting in improved gains and calf livability. Selecting the right breeds could also improve the marketability of the steer calves, while improving the returns on their heifer mates by increasing your marketing options. The top cut of the crossbred heifers could be retained and marketed as replacement females.

photo of female cow with calf

Figures 2. Cows from Female Lines Have Outstanding Maternal Traits

Understanding your customers' needs is a key in developing any successful product. You need to survey the marketplace and identify the critical factors which your customers are looking for in replacement heifers. Can you fulfill their needs with your current herd ? Most commercial producers when asked would list the following criteria on their shopping list when it comes to replacement females:

  • moderate frame
  • easy keeping
  • F1 female (prefer Continental x British in most cases, breed preference generally includes two of the following breeds: Hereford, Simmental, Black Angus, Red Angus, Gelbvieh)
  • Heifers vaccinated and from a vaccinated cow herd
  • functional (i.e. deep ribbed, good set of feet and legs, good udders)
  • consistent/annual supply of these females
  • performance information available on their sires, dams and/or the heifers themselves

It is important to investigate the opportunities in the replacement heifer market before making the leap. Here are some of the questions you need to answer before proceeding …

  1. What breed crosses are likely to be the most marketable in your area ?
  2. Will you sell these potential replacement heifers at weaning, retain the heifer calves and market them as yearlings ready to breed, or as bred heifers the following fall?
  3. Do you have the facilities and the management ability to develop the heifers to their full potential?
  4. What will it cost you to develop these females?
  5. Can you recover your costs based on your prediction of the market?
  6. Is there potential to develop a contract with a producer looking to source replacement females on an annual basis?

The female is the foundation of the herd and putting together a strong group of uniform females will put you well on the way to creating and marketing "reputation" cattle.

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