Restock with Red replacements

Feb 7, 2014
by WLJ

As the nation begins a hopeful recovery from the drought, cattle producers are taking a hard look at the quality of female with which they want to restock their herd, and the Red Angus female is lining up to hit the target.

Ranchers realize she can’t be just another cow. She has to be one that will efficiently earn her keep and raise a profitable calf for many years. She also needs to be problem free, requiring little human intervention to raise her calf, while maintaining her own body condition with low energy requirements. In short, she needs to be a professional at raising a calf year after year.

Retaining and developing replacement heifers is one option ranchers should consider as they look at their operation’s goals to restock their herd.

“Rather than take a significant discount on a heifer at weaning, there is the potential of making a larger profit by growing out that heifer,” said Rick Funston, Beef Cattle  Reproductive Physiologist at the University of Nebraska’s West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, NE.

Reproduction is the single most important factor in profitable beef production, according to Funston, who recommends producers select their females for balanced traits that match the animals to their environment.

He said heifers can be developed at a low cost and bred early during the breeding season, then open heifers can be sold at a premium in the fall as yearlings to go into the feedlot. Testing yearling heifers early in their career will separate those females that exhibit stronger fertility.

Traditionally, researchers have said heifers should weigh at least two-thirds of their mature weight at breeding. Funston, however, said research shows heifers at 50-55 percent of their mature weight could conceive if they are on an increasing plane of nutrition during breeding time.

He also said management practices imposed on developing heifers influenced their longevity. The USDA’s Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center, NE, found that heifers more nutritionally challenged during their development tended to stay in the herd longer.

“If you expose the heifers to whatever they will have to live on as a cow as early as possible, it will make them a better cow. What they are fed during their development is important to their longevity in the herd,” he said.

John Grate and his son Reid develop their Red Angus-cross replacement females on their ranch near Mobridge, SD. Quality females have always been essential on the Grate Ranch, but “grade and fleshing ability became very important when we started finishing steers,” said Grate. “Red Angus proved to be really good at both.”

Grate places a lot of emphasis on problem-free calving. “If she’s had any calving problems, she goes down the road.” Dystocia hasn’t been a problem on the Grate ranch for several decades. The Grates also credit a portion of this success to Red Angus seedstock suppliers who have stayed true to the traits that make a good maternal cow.

Grates started finishing their steers about 20 years ago by sending small groups of five steers to a university trial. The steers consistently gained three pounds a day. “Researchers told me that I couldn’t achieve those kinds of numbers across the entire herd.” But the Grates have been able to sustain that level of gain across their entire steer crop with 70 percent grading Choice or higher.

Chuck Johnson, the Johnson Tuning Fork Ranch of Hall, MT, echoes Grates’ philosophy of a trouble-free cow herd. “Having a female that delivers a calf unassisted is extremely important,” said Johnson. “If a female has any significant problems, we don’t keep her. We want a cow herd that is problemfree.”

Johnson has been using registered Red Angus bulls for nearly 15 years. While adding more uniformity and calving ease to his herd, Johnson said Red Angus genetics also improved his cows’ udder quality and milking ability. He also appreciates the disposition of the Red Angus female and the carcass traits of the calves at harvest weight.

The Red Angus Association of America (RAAA) simplifies the restocking process by identifying Red Angusinfluenced females through the Pro-Cow program. Calves enrolled in Red Angus’ Feeder Calf Certification Program (FCCP) will not only be garnering a premium as feeder calves, but the FCCP yellow tag is now the ticket to easily identifying females who are a minimum of 50 percent Red Angus bloodlines. In fact, ranchers who enroll their calf crops through FCCP are eligible to receive half their tags with an engraved Pro-Cow logo in which to tag their heifer calves.

Restocking Red makes sense—and “cents” in the market. Cattlemen can trust that Red Angus females will add profitability to their operation through strong maternal traits while raising calves that perform well in the feedlot and on the rail. And the RAAA is making it easier than ever to identify those females as Pro Cows; females that are professionals at their job. — RAAA