Herd numbers down as feed costs rise

2011-12-30T10:42:00Z Herd numbers down as feed costs riseBy Jeff DeYoung, Iowa Farmer Today Iowa Farmer Today
December 30, 2011 10:42 am  • 

ALTOONA --- Developing heifers is always as challenge, but with tight cattle supplies, cow-calf producers might be thinking expansion.

Producers interested in building their herd will need to have a plan, said Byron Leu, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist in Fairfield.

He told producers at the recent Iowa Cattlemen’s Association convention the number of beef cows in Iowa in the past decade has decreased by 145,000. Missouri numbers are down 195,000 head.

“Heifer retention continues to erode, but sometime that is going to stop,” Leu said.


HE SAID the regrowth of the cow herd will be based on several factors, including location, resources, capital availability, producer interest and the potential for profit.

Leu said severe drought in the Southern Plains this year caused the cow herd to decrease further.

“The cow herd continues to shrink, and we probably will see three or four more years of it. But, the drought will end sometime, and beef demand is rising. 

“Profit levels are good, and exports are growing.”

He said higher feed costs might cause some producers to think twice about retaining heifers. 

Leu added heifers are selling for a premium, causing many producers to sell rather than develop.

He said tools are available to assist with heifer development, including improved estrus synchronization technology and the availability of semen from bulls with known calving-ease traits.

“With this and the increased availability of co-products feed, the timing seems right,” Leu said.

After the decision is made to retain heifers, they will have to be carefully managed, said Joe Sellers, ISU Extension beef specialist in Chariton.

“You need to make sure they are developed at an acceptable growth rate and body condition,” he said, adding developing heifers also gives a producer an opportunity to improve genetics.


SELLERS SAID often getting the second calf out of that heifer is more of a challenge than the first.

“You want to do what you can to optimize the rebreeding percentage,” he said. 

“We lose more heifers between that first and second calf because they don’t rebreed, so you have to make sure you minimize calving difficulty and meet their nutritional needs in a cost-effective manner.”

Sellers said data needs to be collected, including weights, body condition score and pelvic measurement. Other information could include disposition score, soundness, frame score and herd history.

“Once you are done, if the numbers aren’t right, you need to be able to cull that heifer,” he said.

Leu said producers should want the heifer’s weight at breeding to be about 65 percent of her mature weight. 

For example, a heifer weighing 550 pounds in December and with an estimated mature weight of 1,300 lbs. should put on about 300 lbs. by the time she is bred.

“We like to see a daily gain of about 1.8 lbs.,” Leu said.


HE SAID nutrition is important, adding having a body condition score of 5.6 to 6 is preferable at breeding. 

Leu said several feeding options are available to keep costs down.

“You have to meet her nutritional needs, and there are a variety of feeds that can be used,” he said.

Leu added the better the body condition after calving, the less time before breeding.

“A heifer with a body condition score of 6.0 has a post-partum interval of 52 days,” he said. “If her body condition score is 3.0, that interval is 89 days, so it makes a big difference.”


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