Calving is progressing well in most herds at present. Varying degrees of difficulties and health issues are being reported, as usual.

While this is all going on, you should not take your eye off growing next year’s suckler replacements.

Your rearing/growing strategy for this should be influenced by how the 2016 batch are calving down and settling into motherhood.

Breeding replacement heifers is an important part of any suckler enterprise.

Management strategies and goal setting should be used to ensure money invested in genetics is put to good use.

Heifers are costly to get to the first calving, so every effort must be made to get it right.

Obviously, if you are participating in the BDGP scheme, selection of replacements must take this into account. Your herd must include 50% of your base number as four or five-star females, by 2020.

Age at first calving

It is now common practice to breed heifers at 15 months, or even younger.

The current approach to heifer development is based around the concept of “target weights”, in which heifers are fed to a target percentage of their mature body weight before breeding.

Farmers who subscribe to this method are advised to grow heifers to 65%-70% of their estimated mature weight before breeding.

Be aware, however, that these weight targets must be achieved with good frames, and not with excessively fleshy heifers.

Breeding heifers at a younger age and at lighter weights yields a calf, and return on investment, earlier than waiting to breed until the heifer is heavier and older, but may require more careful management at calving.

Selecting replacements

Many factors influence fertility and age of puberty in beef heifers, including genetics, nutrition, environment and body weight.

Certain management practices can reduce the average age of puberty in replacement heifers.

Heifer selection using genetic evaluation is also an important aspect in improving herd fertility.

By selecting for certain physical, performance, and genetic traits, producers can select the replacement heifers that are most likely to be reproductively efficient.

The combination of good management decisions and measured female selection can significantly improve the overall profitability of the suckler herd.

The most obvious factor s that should be considered when selecting replacements are body size, strength, conformation and type.

Though requirements may vary slightly between herds, most will look for structurally sound females that have adequate muscling, with sufficient volume and depth of body.


Many suckler farmers sell calves shortly after weaning, so calf growth rate and weaning weights are of significant economic importance.

Faster-growing heifers should ultimately produce calves that are heavier at weaning than calves whose dams were slow growing.


Temperament is often overlooked when selecting breeding stock.

Calmer animals are obviously much easier to handle.

Cows with a poor temperament can be very dangerous, particularly just after calving. This is a major problem if you need to handle the calf.

If you are keeping your own replacements, take the dam’s temperament into consideration when selecting heifers.


Genetics play a major role in heifer fertility, and it is possible to select for early maturing females.

Breeds such as Angus and Hereford generally reach puberty earlier than females of Continental breeds.

Obviously, using easy calving sires on heifers is ideal, as a difficult calving for a heifer should be avoided in order to get her back in calf and keep her in the herd long term.

Breed selection

Breed selection is a personal choice.

The work being done by pedigree breeders around the country to improve the maternal side of their breed is excellent, and will be of great benefit to commercial producers into the future.

A suckler cow with sufficient milk to grow a good weanling will significantly help to reduce production costs.

Heifers from dairy herds

Many suckler herds try to source replacement heifers from dairy herds, to improve milk volumes. This can be an excellent strategy, and will deliver good maternal traits.

Limousin, Simmental, Hereford and Angus heifers from dairy herds tend to make good suckler cows.

Take care that the dams are not extreme dairy types, as this will have an adverse effect on the carcass conformation of the progeny.

As an industry, we must look at getting milk from the dam, and beef from the sire.


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