The Upper Coastal Plain Agricultural Research Center, Auburn University's Animal Sciences Department, and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System are offering a Heifer Development program. This program is open to producers from Alabama and neighboring states. The program is designed for fall calving, however a spring option may be available based on enrollment numbers. The replacement heifer is the building block for the cow herd. The goals of this program are as follows:

›      To educate beef producers in Alabama on the proper management of replacement heifers.

›      To increase the implementation of heifer development practices by Alabama producers, which would result in optimum reproductive efficiency in mature cows and thus, increased profitability.

›      To demonstrate management techniques necessary for replacement heifers to reach target weights and breed successfully through a Total Quality Management approach.

›      To demonstrate estrus synchronization protocols and artificial insemination programs.

›      To demonstrate methods of evaluating heifers for disposition, performance, and reproductive traits.

›      To increase marketing opportunities for and to add value to Alabama-raised heifers.

›      To investigate the production and economic value of differing management practices and report those findings in reference journals.

The Heifer Development Program offers many benefits to the producer. This article will highlight just a few of them.

Decreased Time and Land Commitment

When sending heifers off-farm for development, producers no longer have to set up different management plans to address heifer's different nutritional, and space requirements. Also, as winter approaches, you, the producer, will not have to concern yourself with the increased feed and nutrition needs of the heifers. Transferring responsibility for these aspects of developing heifers off-farm will release your resources, land, and time, thereby allowing you to concentrate on other areas of production.

Pre-breeding Evaluation

Pre-breeding examinations, including a pelvic measurement and a reproductive tract score, are conducted on each heifer that is entered in the program six weeks before the breeding season begins. Both the pelvic area exam and reproductive tract score provide a scientific guide to the heifer's chances of becoming bred. If the heifer fails this evaluation, the producer is notified and can sell the heifer. If the heifer is borderline, then the producer will be notified and the animal will be rechecked at the time of breeding. If, at that time, the heifer is still borderline, the producer may choose to keep the animal in the program, with advisement from the committee that the heifer, based on scientific literature that the heifer does not have a high chance of becoming bred.     

Since most producers do not administer pre-breeding evaluations (for time and resource reasons), participation in this program allows producers to recognize the weak heifers and decide whether or not to keep them, an opportunity they may not have if they are working independently. Pre-breeding examinations give producers a road map of how they need to handle the heifers from that process forward. Pelvic measurements, tract scores, weights, along with disposition scores are common for most programs, although each present something unique that will give the producer a baseline for culling decisions. These procedures will save money and resources by weeding out the immature heifers. The producer will no longer spend entire breeding season, feeding and caring for her only to discover that a heifer was not bred later on in the year.

Breeding Options—Natural or AI

The heifer development program has instituted an Artificial Insemination (AI) option. While this program will cost a little more, by using it, the producer will be able to pull in top-of-the-line genetics to the herd. There are two options in the AI program. In either case, the producer will be given the choice of two well-bred bulls. The committee will choose the bulls based on their EPDs. Each bull will be in the top 25 percent of the breed for direct and/or maternal calving ease and/or birth weight EPD, and with an accuracy of .70 or higher.

In the natural service track, all heifers, whether returning to the owner or offered for sale, will be bred to the bull chosen by the committee.

Alternatively, the producer may buy semen from their preferred program bull. Each heifer on AI will go through a timed AI synchronization protocol. Then, it will be released to a pasture with a clean-up bull, if the heifer is not bred through the AI protocol. This option is slightly more expensive than the natural service option.

The breeding plans allow the producer to bring new genetics into their herd without having to buy a new bull or search for semen. This will help the producer to improve their herd and move it in a new direction.

Both options will have a 75-day breeding season, which will allow for a 75-day calving season. This calving season will benefit the producer by helping with nutrient management, forage resources, labor and the uniformity in marketing calves.

Pregnancy Confirmation

Each heifer that is entered into the program will be checked for pregnancy. Having the pregnancy confirmed saves money and time. If the heifer is open, the producer has the option, and is strongly advised to take advantage of this option, to sell the un-bred heifer. After the heifer is checked, the producer will be contacted with the results, including, if applicable, how far along the pregnancy is.

Option to Sell

The heifer development program is planning to develop a sale of bred heifers at the end of the program. The objective for the program is to market a set of heifers that can be grouped to calve within a 45 to 75 day period. This program allows a producer who might not have the resources or desire to sell heifers directly to transfer that responsibility to the bred heifer sale. This bred heifer sale will be a new marketing outlet for producers. This will only come about if there is an interest from the consigners. This program will be beneficial to those producers who participate, whether it is in improved time and resource management, herd improvement, or another marketing opportunity. Whatever the benefit, this program is looking to help Alabama beef producers to give them the skills to develop their herds so they can keep up with the ever changing future market.

For more information contact Ilana Stover (205) 487-0559 or (205) 442-1743, ims0002@aces.edu or Randal Rawls (205) 487-2150 or rawlsrc@auburn.edu. This year we will be accepting and processing heifers September 5-9, 2011 on the Upper Coastal Plain Research and Extension Station, in Winfield Ala. Also consignment forms will be on the web at www.aces.edu/animalforage, and www.albcia.com

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