heifer development

What’s the best option? Buy your replacements or raise them?

The discussion on whether or not to buy or raise replacement heifers has been raging for generations. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of each.

By Jason Bradley

There are any number of good ways to start a discussion at the sale barn café. All you have to do is proffer an opinion on a management idea, or even just ask a question, and an argument will quickly arise.

With weaning time getting closer, here’s one to try: What’s better—buying replacement heifers or raising your own?

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.

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.

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.

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.

Bradley is an ag economics consultant with the Noble Research Institute, Ardmore, Okla.

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