Developing heifers is costly for cow-calf operations.

Getting heifers to reach sexual maturity in time and to recover quickly after their first calf is challenging, so first and second calf heifers require extra management, which means extra costs.

Kathy Larson an Economist for the Western Beef Development Centre talks about the costs associated with heifer development.

"You have to first start off with the fact that you gave up the opportunity as a weaned calf," she said. "So whatever you could have sold that heifer for as a wean calf, that basically your starting point and that's usually the largest cost. This past fall with calfs around probably 860 for a 550 weight heifer and then from there you have the cost of developing her over the winter and grazing her and exposing her to breading, typically they all cost $500-$550."           

She suggests producers weigh the animals and provide rations so that heifers reach at least 65% of their mature body weight at the time of first breeding; as well as spending the money to invest in a decent bull that’s good on heifers for first calving ease.

Dr. John Campbell, with the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon, was one of the keynote speakers during the Canadian Beef Industry Conference last week.

He also shared his thoughts on heifer development and breeding.

"I would say the main reason heifers don't get pregnant, is because they haven't reached sexual maturity by the time they reach the breeding season," he said. "The other big problem is getting those heifers pregnant again a second time because they take longer to return to estrus and so second calf heifers tend to have the highest open rates in a lot of herds."        

Dr. Campbell says nutrition and the breeding schedule plays an important role in Heifer development.

He says heifers need to be managed differently from the other cow herd since they have different nutritional requirements as a growing animal and don’t compete as well in a large herd.