Improved heifer care eyed to beef up cattle herd, quality

For the past 60 years the U.S. cow herd has been declining, creating a short supply of beef for consumers and thus leading to meat prices reaching new record highs almost every week.

While it may seem like there is an obvious solution to this problem, repopulating the cow herd for quality beef involves more than just farmers keeping heifers to breed (a heifer is a female cow that is not mature enough to breed). Rather, one researcher from the University of Missouri has found it involves using improved genetics and focusing special attention on pre-breeding care and nutrition.

Based on these findings, he has developed a new program for farmers that focuses on pre-breeding management and in turn, will help not only rebuild the cow herd but also improve the quality grade of meat that is produced.

A major cause of a heifer’s failure to breed is lack of body development in weight and condition, which relates to underdeveloped reproductive tracts. Evaluating a heifer’s condition visually or even weighing them does not tell farmers if they are ready to conceive. However, exams by a veterinarian six weeks ahead of breeding can give farmers the additional information they need.

This information comes by way of a 5-point reproductive tract score, which based on the results, can help farmers make better breeding decisions for their heifers and can also allow them more time to correct problems before breeding actually begins.

For example, if a heifer receives a score of one, this means they have infantile ovaries and should be sent to a feedlot as they will not be able to catch up or produce offspring. A score of a four or five shows that a heifer is ready to cycle, or already cycling, and therefore ready to be breed. Scores in between can give farmers time to introduce more feed into the heifer’s diet and possibly correct problems before breeding.

By knowing this type of information, farmers will be able to make better decisions when it comes to managing their heifers, repopulating the cow herd and improving the quality of the meat they produce. With the current short supply of beef, not only is the demand higher, but there are also incentives for more quality meat; contributing to future profits for quality, not just commodity beef.

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