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Replacement heifer selection assisted with technology

Last week, Dr. Dan Dhuyvetter wrote about some of the technology available as apps for our smart devices. Is the CRYSTALYX® Body Condition Score (BCS) app a nice toy or are there practical applications? I have great interest in animal nutrition, management systems and could easily engage in prolonged discussion on the topics. However, when it comes to genetics and debating the merit of specific EPDs, I soon lose interest. I recently attended a meeting where one of the presentations was on Genomic Selection for Economically Relevant Traits. The science of microchips with gene markers involved is impressive, but I left the presentation wondering how practical is this on weaning day when the final gate cut will be made that determines if a specific heifer is destined for the feed yard or replacement program? Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can feed them all like feedlot animals and decide later.  Below I will discuss how the RESULTS of using some CRYSTALYX® technologies can make heifer selection easier. Below I will discuss how the RESULTS of using some CRYSTALYX® technologies can make heifer selection easier.

Result #1. A Shortened Calving Season

Managing body condition score is one of the primary factors to impact reproduction. The BCS app is a great tool to help know how BCS is changing and what feeding management changes are needed. The second significant factor is plane of nutrition at critical times in the production cycle. Mature pasture/forage and or stored forages are often short on protein. CRYSTALYX® offers a wide variety of protein supplements to complement a wide variety of forage conditions. This added protein enhances rumen function and improves forage digestibility, thus generating more “energy” from the forage. Once we near calving season, the Breed-Up® line offers protein and increased critical nutrient levels for the month before calving through the breeding season. In addition, they contain organic trace minerals for the highest possible availability to ensure maximum reproduction and health. Specifically for replacement heifer selection, it is much easier to “know” and compare the growth rates of individual calves when they are born within a few weeks of each other as compared to assuming that a smaller calf was an under performer when in reality it could be one of the highest growth rate calves, but 60-80 days younger. We could actually know the performance if using a scale to weigh the animals at birth and weaning, but that is not always easily accomplished.

Result #2. Knowing the "Keeping Ability" of the Dam

The ideal cow is one that can thrive on meager amounts of forage and wean a calf that is at least 60% of her body weight. What makes a cow efficient varies by region and often is specific to a given operation. Growing up in Kentucky, I have a love/hate relationship with fescue. Cows that will thrive on smooth brome in Iowa and Nebraska may not survive on fescue.  Knowing the feed efficiency of a beef cow is valuable information, but rarely available. A better defined ideal cow is one that holds her body condition; breeds back in less than 80 days and weans a calf that is at least 60% of her body weight. So how do we get to that better defined state?  Using the CRYSTALYX® BCS app on a routine basis at weaning, calving, breeding and mid-gestation can give you a documented history of cow performance. Knowing this information about a calf’s dam can be critical in replacement selection. A big growth-looking heifer may lose standing if her mother struggles to return to breeding condition in a timely manner and is a risk of being a later breeder.

I don’t mean to discount the importance of knowing the EPDs of important traits of the animals, but performance is a function of genotype and how that genetic mix works in a given environment. Weaning day is the beginning of one of the longest “tests” on many ranches and farms. “Which heifer will I keep for replacements?” is just the beginning of the test. It pays to study and have good information that the two results above can provide. The more accurate information, the better you can answer that first question. The final question of this test is at least 2 years and 9 months away when that heifer finally weans her first calf.