Management strategies to be successful in heifer development


STOCKTON, Mo. – “Drought has led to historic declines in cattle numbers in Missouri,” says Patrick Davis MU Extension Livestock Field Specialist.  As weather and cattle price become favorable for cattle herds to rebuild, Davis suggests adding value to a cattle operation through heifer development.  Davis will discuss cattle management strategies of the Missouri Show-Me-Select (SMS) Replacement Heifer Program that will help cattle producers be successful in heifer development and adding value to their operation.

“A prebreeding exam identifies heifers that are reproductively sound and acceptable for development,” says Davis.  This exam is done by a veterinarian on heifers at 12 to 14 months of age and approximately 30 to 60 days prior to the breeding season.  The exam evaluates the reproductive tract to make sure the heifer is acceptable in sexual maturity to become pregnant in the upcoming breeding season.  Pelvic area is evaluated to make sure the heifer has adequate size to calve with ease at 2 years of age.  For more information on using the prebreeding exam in replacement heifer selection, read MU Extension guide g2028 (

“Nutritional management is important to heifer development,” say Davis.  Manage heifers to reach 55% to 65% of their mature body weight at breeding depending on animal type and environment.  Heifers also need to be at body condition score (BCS) 5 during the breeding season for optimum pregnancy rates.  Manage heifers to reach 85% percent of their mature body weight and BCS 6 at calving.  For more information on cattle body condition score evaluation, read MU Extension Guide g2230 ( and for heifer development nutrition read MU Extension g2091 (


“If your heifer development program goal is to market bred heifers off the farm, then utilize artificial insemination (AI),” says Davis.  Usually, AI bred heifers sell for more than natural service bred heifers in SMS Replacement Heifer Program sales.  This is probably due to the confidence in genetic quality of the progeny and calving date.  Davis urges cattle producers to utilize a timed AI estrous synchronization protocol to breed these heifers.  For more information on timed AI estrous synchronization protocols go to

“Be strategic when selecting a service sire for your heifers,” says Davis.  Calving ease needs to be a priority, but it is also important to incorporate traits in the selection process that are beneficial to your cattle operation.  Utilize expected progeny difference (EPD) information over actual production data in selection because this gives a more accurate depiction of how the progeny will perform.  Also, if you are selecting a natural service sire, select one that has been genomically tested, and the information is incorporated into his EPDs because this will provide EPDs that will better represent how his progeny will perform.

“The breeding season for heifers should be relatively short,” says Davis.  Use a 60 day or less breeding season and cull any open heifers following the breeding season.  This strategy promotes retaining highly fertile heifers since they are more likely to conceive and become pregnant in the short breeding window.  This also helps increase their likelihood of rebreeding and being retained after their first calf is weaned and helps them calve earlier as cows.  Also, the calves of these heifers will be born earlier in the calving season which increases the calves’ chances of being older and heavier at weaning.

“Pregnancy check and cull open heifers early after the breeding season,” says Davis.  Davis suggests the quicker you identify and sell open heifers the more valuable they are to the feedyard.  Furthermore, operation profitability is improved by not wasting feed resources on open heifers.

“Have a proper health program so heifers develop to their full potential,” says Davis.  There are specific vaccination and health requirements for SMS program heifers.  Cattle producers need to work with their veterinarian to develop a proper vaccination and parasite control program to ensure heifers develop to their full potential.  MU Extension guide g2044 ( provides a cattle herd vaccination and parasite control framework that is helpful in development of your herd’s program.

“The SMS Replacement Heifer Program has been the Missouri standard for heifer development for over 25 years,” says Davis.  This program educates cattle producers on the strategies mentioned above to be successful in heifer development and provides a reliable source of bred replacement heifers for their operation or the operations that buy their heifers.  For more information on heifer development, the SMS Replacement Heifer Program, or how to enroll heifers into the program, contact your local MU Extension Livestock Field Specialist or visit the program website at  If you are rebuilding your cattle herd and want to purchase bred heifers from the fall program sales go to the program sale website at