April is time to get spring-calving beef heifers ready to breed

Carol Sanders | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences

heifersPINE BLUFF, Ark. – Most cattle producers breed their cows in June so they will calve in March and April, but heifers should be bred 20 to 30 days before the rest of the herd, said Dr. David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

Vaccinate heifers for IBR-BVD-PI3, BRSV, vibriosis, leptospirosis and blackleg 7-way 30 to 60 days before breeding. This ensures that heifers will be healthy during their pregnancy and reduce abortions due to preventable diseases.

Heifers should be in good condition before they are bred. If they are too thin, especially after a hard winter, they will be less likely to reach puberty or become pregnant. Separate heifers from mature cows because they cannot compete with mature cows at the feed trough or for the better quality forage in the pasture, said Dr. Fernandez. Feed heifers to reach about 65 percent of their mature weight at breeding.

Avoid overfeeding heifers. Overconditioned ones deposit fat in the udder which reduces milk production later. They also have more calving difficulty and are more difficult to breed back after calving.

Choose heifers carefully. Select heifers based on adjusted 205-day weaning weight, birth weight, structural correctness, frame size or hip height and good health history. High weaning weight/low birth weight heifers that are structurally sound, moderate sized and healthy are the ones to breed, recommends Dr. Fernandez.

Heifers have more trouble calving than mature cows, so smaller, easier calves that still have good growth potential are what ranchers should plan to produce. Some producers use young bulls on heifers in an effort to reduce calf birth weights. But, young bulls do not produce smaller calves than mature bulls, said Dr. Fernandez. Instead, choose a low birth weight epd bull or a calving ease bull to use on your heifers.

Breed heifers for 45 days, and then check them for pregnancy at 60 to 90 days. Cull open heifers. Feed heifers to gain about .8 to 1 pound per day until calving. Some ranchers underfeed pregnant heifers to reduce calf birth weights. Underfed, thin heifers have calving problems, poor milk production, weak calves and fail to breed back.

Dr. Fernandez said that preparation today will help reduce breeding problems and produce the best calves your heifers can produce next year.

Heifers should be in good body condition next year when they calve (body condition score of 5 or 6 on a scale of 1=emaciated to 9=obese). Even when they calve in good condition, two year olds take 20 to 30 days longer than mature cows to breed back after their first calf.

For more information on breeding or answers to other livestock questions, contact Dr. Fernandez at (870) 575-7214 or email him at fernandezd@uapb.edu.

The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Program offers its programs to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

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