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Build Better Heifers

In at least three states, the "value-added" concept is moving from retained ownership into another category - replacement heifers. Two special sales are planned the next two months in Missouri, while another is set for Kentucky. A third state, Iowa, is moving in that direction as well."Holding these heifers over and selling them as breeding animals looks good on paper as a way to add value," says

In at least three states, the "value-added" concept is moving from retained ownership into another category - replacement heifers. Two special sales are planned the next two months in Missouri, while another is set for Kentucky. A third state, Iowa, is moving in that direction as well.

"Holding these heifers over and selling them as breeding animals looks good on paper as a way to add value," says Eldon Cole, area livestock specialist and one of the motivators behind Missouri's Show-Me Select program, a special heifer replacement sale. But, he cautions, "you do have to look at your financial situation and have an understanding banker or be financially able to hold these heifers over for another year."

Nolan and Steve Kleiboeker at Kleiboeker Farms in southwest Missouri went through that paperwork last year. As a result, they made two decisions:

U To retain ownership through the feedlot of their 1996 spring crop of Angus-Simmental cross steer calves;

U To put 46 of their heifer mates in the Show-Me Select Heifer sale at Joplin Regional Stockyards on Tuesday, November 14.

These heifers are part of the 500 bred and open heifers to be sold that day in Joplin and at the F&T Livestock Market, Palmyra, MO, on December 12.

"These aren't commodity sales," explains Extension economist Verne Pierce. "We're selling a value-added commodity with more data attached than any other animal you've purchased in your life."

Will Heifers Bring Premium Prices? Considering today's bullish attitude in the industry, promoters hope bred heifers like the Kleiboekers' will bring premium prices over regular sales. That's been the case in the Kentucky Elite Replacement Heifer program the last few years.

Kleiboekers have two things going for them: Their heifers usually sell at the top of their weight range at Joplin, and their steer mates have performed well in the feedlot and on the rail.

Proof comes from the feedlot and carcass performance of steer mates sent to Supreme Feeders, Liberal, KS, early last November and marketed through the Farmland Supreme Beef alliance.

The steers gained an average of 3.29 lbs./day for 187 days and weighed 1,217 lbs. at slaughter on May 24. Grading Choice were 90%, while 93% yield graded 2 and 3 with 7% 4s, and 29% qualified as Certified Angus Beef.

The heifers were weaned last September, earlier than usual due to dry pastures. They grazed fescue through the winter, were fed MGA for 14 days and bred AI after cycling once. Heifers received 2 lbs./day of supplement through the summer.

These heifers met the Show-Me Select guidelines. Cole, fellow livestock specialist Al Kennett, reproductive physiologist David Patterson, and Extension veterinarians Richard Randle and Bob Larson (members of the Missouri Beef Focus Team) visited each farm to conduct reproductive and condition examinations to make sure heifers qualified.

On November 14, the 46 bred heifers will be sorted into three pens based on calving dates. Prospective buyers will have access to performance data on each animal. Kleiboeker will pay $20/head plus the $5 fee for supporting the Southwest Missouri Beef Improvement Association, sponsors of the program.

So far, the Missouri program is Extension-driven. However, Cole hopes area veterinarians will get involved as they have in Bourbon County, KY, the site of the Elite Replacement Heifer program that has been a model for the Show-Me Select effort.

"There's the potential for three to four additional sales in the state next year," says Randle. Patterson hopes 5,000 heifers will go through the program in 1998.

Much of the credit for starting the Missouri effort goes to Patterson, who helped organize the Kentucky Elite program before moving to Missouri a year ago.

Since its inception, some 8,000 bred and open heifers have gone through the Elite program. Two sales are scheduled at Paris Livestock, Paris, KY, - November 3 for bred heifers born in the spring of 1996; and April 3 for open heifers that calved last fall.

This program is sponsored by the Bourbon County Livestock Improvement Association. Its objective is to develop an elite set of heifers that will demand top dollar on the market, while offering an alternative market outlet to beef producers.

The bred heifer sale is limited to 500 head. "We feel that's all we can sell at one time," says Bourbon County Extension director Glen Mackie. Another 300-350 head will be sold by individual producers after the sale.

Iowa's MACEP Program The Iowa program is called MACEP (Midcrest Area Cattle Evaluation Program). It began in 1989 in south central Iowa with the help of Extension and veterinary workers. MACEP has no public sales, although the Iowa Cattlemen's and Veterinary Medical associations are talking about organizing sales similar to those in Missouri and Kentucky.

Currently, producers consign 5-30 heifers each that go into drylot at the Doyle and Connie Richards farm in southcentral Iowa until bred AI in the spring. They're put on pasture in the summer and pregnancy-tested in the fall, then returned to the consignor's farm, where they stay in the herd or are sold private treaty to other producers. A similar program is held at the Rocking 8 Cattle Company in central Missouri.

Missouri's Eldon Cole says one thing lacking in these programs, so far, is accurate data on just what it costs to keep a replacement heifer on the farm until she calves.

He believes growing them on the farm will cost less than the $304.65-$377.13 range it cost to maintain 89 heifers for 254 days in the 1995-96 program, as reported by livestock specialist Dale Watson. Or, the $320/heifer at the Richards commercial yard in Iowa, noted by Extension specialist Russ BreDahl, who is working with the program. This included feed, yardage, pasture, health treatment, pregnancy diagnosis, reproductive tract evaluation and pelvic area measurements, maturity and interest, but not semen costs. A consignor picks his own sire.

Interest is expanding in Iowa, says livestock specialist Darrell Busby, but he believes the big value is when individual producers begin raising bred heifers commercially.

"I'm excited about that," says Busby. "The ultimate Extension program is when we take an idea, start it out and someone in the private sector sees a profit and decides to copy it. Then you have something."

Cole believes there is more potential for this option in his area than many producers realize, although they do have to look at the situation differently.

It's Not Just "Looks" "We used to keep the biggest and best looking heifers," Cole says. "But when we, with veterinarian assistance, started analyzing them for reproductive soundness, age at puberty and genetic value, we found that at least 50 percent of the heifer calves in a lot of herds would make excellent herd replacements."

Patterson sees the potential impact of these programs not only in increased sales of replacements, but also in export trade. "The Mexican government is showing interest in buying heifers from this program," he says.

Another plus is the potential for such programs to significantly improve reproductive management of herds in the state. This has happened in the Kentucky program.

"With the use of improved health programs, nutrition management and practices like synchronization, you can see differences not only in heifers in the Elite program, but it's rubbing off on others who aren't involved," Patterson says.

Heifer development guidelines in the Show-Me Select program emphasize minimum requirements for body condition, health, reproduction, age at puberty and EPDs of sires. Here are some of the specific rules.

* Heifers consigned to the bred heifer sale must be owned a minimum of 60 days prior to breeding or bought in the spring open sale. Purchased heifers must be accompanied by an affidavit listing the name and address of the original breeder and approximate birth dates of heifers.

* A certification committee (Extension specialist or veterinarian) screens animals for frame, muscle, structural soundness and general sale acceptability. They rate heifers into one of five reproductive tract scores: 1) not breeding or a problem animal; 2) very immature non-cycling; 3) a bit more mature but still not cycling; 4) at puberal state and beginning to cycle; and 5) obviously cycling.

* Open heifers less than 15 months of age must have a reproductive tract score of 2 or greater on sale day. If over 15 months old, the tract score must be 4 or 5 on sale day. The yearling pelvic measurement should be 150 sq. cm. or greater, 180 cm. if over 18 months of age.

Bred heifers must be bred to calve before May 1 and guaranteed safe in calf. Two pregnancy exams are performed, 120 days prior to gestation and within 30 days prior to sale to confirm pregnancy.

* Open heifers must weigh 600 lbs. or more if English crosses, or 700 lbs. for others. Prebreeding weights will be determined at the time reproductive tract scores and pelvic measurements are obtained. Spring calving heifers bred to sell in the fall/winter sales must have a minimum condition score of 5 and weigh at least 800 lbs.

* Show-Me Select heifers should be vaccinated with follow-up booster shots as recommended, treated for internal and external parasite control within 45 days of sale, be polled or dehorned and healed. They should also be fed MGA up to 14 days to synchronize estrus for AI.

* Bred heifers must have been serviced by bulls of known ID and breed with complete EPD information. The emphasis is on birthweight and calving ease EPDs as shown by the record of the Angus bull called Venture. (Venture was the service sire of the 46 Kleiboeker Farms heifers.) He had a birthweight EPD of -.5 and yearling weight EPD of +75.

* The Missouri program doesn't offer free delivery, although the Kentucky Kentucky Elite Heifer Sale does for purchases of 10 head or more up to 300 miles. "That option has helped attract buyers from seven to eight states," says Bourbon County Extension director Glen Mackie.