Tips for buying replacement cows

Feb 20, 2009
by WLJ
Tips for buying replacement cows

Many producers choose to purchase rather than raise replacement cows for several different reasons. While the initial cost is often the main selection criterion, it should not be the only consideration and is not necessarily the most important.

Special replacement sales and local auction barns are the most common sources of replacement cows. Too often, little to nothing is known about these prospective females in terms of genetics, health and previous management.

Still, with planning and effort, replacements can be found that have a good chance of maintaining herd productivity. Factors to consider in purchasing replacement females include: Uniformity—Additions should match the existing herd’s mature size, breed type and stage of reproduction (preferably the early part of the calving season).

Uniformity and consistency of cattle are important to you and the industry. According to work done by Oklahoma State University, the advantages of uniformity at local and terminal auctions is being captured to the tune of a $7.50 to $9.00/cwt. advantage for uniform calves in lot sizes greater than five head. Soundness—Visual inspection should always be a part of the equation. Soundness is any physical trait that enables a female to wean a calf every 365 days; the animal’s ability to travel; and the condition of the feet, legs, udder and eyes. Disposition should also be appraised at this time. Condition—Rarely consider replacement females that are in a body condition score (BCS) of 4 or below. As a cow drops below a BCS 4, she will begin to mobilize muscle tissue in order to meet her nutritional needs, negatively affecting your ability to appraise muscling characteristics. Also, a stressed cow is susceptible to a host of other problems that may not be evident. On the other end of the scale, you may want to avoid overly fat animals of BCS 8 or greater.

Health—Your herd’s health program, developed with your veterinarian, should include a protocol for new purchases. The veterinarian may recommend a quarantine period of 30 to 60 days. Testing for specific diseases, such as Johne’s and persistent infection of bovine viral diarrhea, should also be done before moving new females to the main herd. Define your selection/purchase criteria and expected price range in advance, but don’t necessarily etch them in stone. Just be aware that any departure from your criteria will mostly likely come with added costs of some kind. — Al Decker, University of Missouri