Getting better, but not bigger: Considering the costs of holding back heifers


When it comes time to replace cows in the herd, one of the biggest questions producers face is whether to raise their own heifer calves or buy in bred-heifers or young cows.

Kathy Larson, research associate and extension economist at the University of Saskatchewan, recently joined RealAgriculture’s Lyndsey Smith to discuss the factors to consider when making this decision.

Larson notes that although keeping your own heifers may seem cheaper upfront, producers need to factor in the big picture, and all of the associated costs of raising replacements. Not to be forgotten is the opportunity cost of forgoing revenue from selling heifer calves in a strong market, like this year.

“For the most part, there’s this mindset that for sure, it’s cheaper [to raise your own heifers]. But that’s because not all of the costs are considered,” she says. (Story continues below interview).

As Larson explains in the interview above, one of the resources you can use to determine costs is a heifer development calculator. There is one currently available from the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) that was based in part on some of Larson’s previous work. By using the calculator, you are able to help quantify โ€” and see right in front of you โ€” some of the costs such as feed, interest, death/loss, and conception rates to determine the trust cost of raising replacements.

There are certainly no one-size-fits all answer here, but beyond finances, Larson says you need to consider available feed resources during drought or tight supply years, genetic goals for the herd, and the risk of health or death issues impacting heifer development. Some operations choose to buy in bred females to avoid calving challenges, or gain proven genetics more quickly. But, as many who have been in the market for some time are well aware โ€” high cattle prices also mean purchased animals will be costly.

“It’s not always about getting bigger, it’s about getting better. So just finding efficiencies with your current herd size.”

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