Selecting and Developing Replacement Heifers

Selecting and Developing Replacement Heifers

Bred heifer
Bred heifers are valuable and represent the future of your herd. Photo credit Aaron Berger.

Fall is the time of year when many cow-calf producers make their replacement heifer selections and begin planning for the development of those heifers into bred females. The following are tips for selecting and developing replacement heifers.


The following are suggestions for replacement heifer selection from Dr. Jim Gosey, Beef Specialist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. The first thing Dr. Gosey suggests is removing heifers that are:

  • born late in the calving season (after the first 45 days)
  • from cows that needed assistance at calving
  • born to dams that have big teats or need help getting their calves to nurse
  • exceptionally small at weaning
  • nervous or have an attitude problem

After these heifers are removed, consider developing the rest and exposing them for a short breeding season (30-45 days). This will select for those heifers that are the most fertile. If the number of replacement heifers to be kept needs to be reduced, give special consideration to keeping daughters from older cows in the herd. The dams of these heifers have worked in your production environment.


UNL Extension Beef Reproduction Specialist Dr. Rick Funston suggests producers should consider developing replacement heifers employing a systems approach utilizing feed resources they will be expected to consume as mature cows. Research from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and other universities has shown that heifers can be developed to 50-57% of their mature weight at breeding and not impair reproductive performance. However, it is critical that an appropriate level of nutrition is available prior to breeding and through calving to achieve these results.

A webinar by Dr. Funston "Cost Effective Replacement Development" highlights research and offers suggestions for developing replacement heifers.

Another resource is the UNL NebGuide G2215 "Reducing Replacement Heifer Development Costs Using a Systems Approach" (PDF version, 1.04MB).

Dr. Funston made a presentation at the 2014 Beef Improvement Federation Conference titled "Beef Heifer Development and Lifetime Productivity" (PDF 426KB) that also focuses on these issues.

Bred heifers are valuable and represent the future of your herd. Cost effectively developing heifers that will work in your production environment is critical.


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