Planning for a calving season for a group of heifers really starts a birth on our farm. We watch for calves that are up and moving within an hour of birth and easy handling when we go to tag the calf, if she is crazy acting when we try to tag her, she goes on a list of heifers to watch for brains and attitude for later in life. (We do not like crazy, head throwing cattle) We watch entire calf crop for animals that are not performing or gaining weight and mark those cattle in another list for potential culling later both on the cow and calf’s part. The next true test for our young heifers comes at weaning time, we start watching closely at this time for mental and attitude problems while we are developing heifers. Since we hand feed our heifers twice a day at this point problem children are quick to stand out and be eliminated from the herd. It takes one bad apple to sour the entire group of heifers.
When heifers turn a year old we go though the herd and pelvic check the group and cull select animals that do not meet the standards that we have set for the herd. Late born heifers are generally never kept because of age and growth. We like to have heifers that are at least measuring 165 cm meaning that they should be able to have a calf weighing 75 pound unassisted. This is the low end, we would like to see heifers anywhere between 180 and 225, and this comes in handy later on in life when we breed them back to Simmental bulls. So starting from a group around 40 head or so in the spring herd we generally try and breed around 30 heifers each year to serve as replacement s in the herd. We then sync the heifers to all come in heat on a certain day and breed though Artificial Insemination. With heifers I generally try and calve around two weeks before the cows so I have plenty of time to devote to them if needed. By the time all is said and done we generally have around 25 heifers calving in each spring the same with the fall herd. Any heifer that does not breed during this time frame is eliminated from the herd.
I will be honest and admit I tend to baby my heifers when it comes time to calves to be hitting the ground. Being that it is the second week of February I have a barn bedded down with a hay ring and water. Anything that looks like she might have a baby in the night is locked up in the barn so the calf would be protected from the elements. I check our heifers every three hours when they are close so if anyone needs assistance it can be given, heifers tend to give up easier and sooner than older cows. When a heifer calves, then next test so to speak is given, how they act when I go to tag the calf, some aggression is allowable since it is her job to protect her calf but she must allow for the calf to be inspected, vaccinated for ecoli, and tagged if she expects to make in long in the herd. We do not employ man eating cows. From there the heifer is monitored on her performance of raising the calf to weaning and breeding back.
These are all factors that I look over when choosing when cows are bred back into the herd for the next year. One heifer that would be raising a nonperformer calf and breed back with the second calf may not stay on the farm to deliver another poor performing calf; While the heifer that raised a tremendous calf and didn’t breed back might be rolled into the next herd depending on her genetics and body condition. Cows that have been established in the herd might be eliminated on the sole cause of her offspring throwing problem children or lack of performance once off the cow. Now that we have been selling beef by the cut I have taken the knowledge that I have gained by looking at the finished product and doing more with the bloodlines that produce that better steak and have stronger marbling for that great tasting steak you have come to know, expect and select. Next time I will go in to how I select sires for our herd based on the information that I have on hand and where I look for the direction of Quarles Beef to take.