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Raising vs. Buying Replacement Heifers

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When it comes to getting replacement females for your cattle herd, multiple options are available. One would be to use your own cow herd and keep the heifers you need. Or you could outsource and purchase virgin heifers from a different operation and breed them to the bull(s) of your choice. Another option is to buy heifers bred to a bull that would roll straight into your program.

Which one is the best? Like so many things in agriculture, the method that works for one operation may not be the best option for another. That’s why it’s so important to know what the costs are for a particular method while understanding what benefits you’ll get in return.

Pros and Cons

The pros and cons of any method should be considered before making a decision. With home-raised replacements, you should know exactly what you’re getting. You’ll also be able to sell any extra bred heifers at a higher price than feeder heifers that are not bred. The downside is it requires a much higher level of management in order to have a well-functioning breeding program, which means you need to take into account the costs and timelines for general management of your operation. It also means you’re going to have an animal that’s utilizing the available forage while not producing a calf, and you’ll need a plan to prevent inbreeding.

On the other hand, if you purchase your replacements, there will not be any missed animal production because those heifers will be calving that year. This option also allows for new genetics to be brought into the herd. However, there’s not always a guarantee of what kind of calf you will get if you purchase bred heifers. Unfortunately, with this option you cannot guarantee the genetics of the calf that will come from the purchased bred heifer. In order to purchase replacements that increase your chances of getting what you want, you will face a higher purchase price.

What’s Feasible

Before making your decision, take a step back and decide what is feasible from your operational standpoint and management abilities. Are you able to spend more time developing the replacement type you want or would your time be better spent managing purchased replacements that don’t require that commitment or resources? The options outlined here are just some of the many ways to obtain replacement heifers for your herd.

Jason Bradley serves as an agricultural economics consultant in the producer relations program. His areas of interest include financial planning, budgeting and analysis, along with marketing plans and risk management. He joined the Noble Research Institute in 2016.