Sourcing replacement females this spring for a suckler herd

The breeding season on spring-calving herds is not too far away, at this stage farmers should be considering the number of heifers they are going to let to the bull this year.

With cull cow prices recording record heights in some marts, farmers should review their herds to see if any problem cows can be shown the exit door in order to make way for a new set of female genetics to enter the herd.

When selecting replacement females, the options are to either breed from your own stock or purchase in new bloodlines from another herd.

Although, there are some precautionary measures that farmers should take if considering buying in females over the next few weeks for bulling.

Every farmer is going to have their preference when it comes to selecting replacements, so there is no point in highlighting any particular breed.

Ideally, what a farmer should want from their replacements is that they are fertile, docile, have a good pelvis, comes from a good milk production bloodline and will be fit to rear her calf.

For a farmer that is interested in having high Euro-star indexes, they should keep an eye on the Maternal Index figures of the females.

There will be advantages and disadvantages from both breeding and buying in replacements this spring.

silver bullet slaughter TB agreement beef

Breeding from within the herd

One main advantage of sourcing females from within the herd is that you know what her pedigree is capable of. Take a look at how good of a cow her mother and potentially grandmother were, judgement can be made off this heritage performance over the years.

The replacement’s mother should be producing a calf every year, maintains her condition well, is docile and is capable off weaning a good heavy calf.

You can select the traits you want from a replacement. If the herd is using a maternal stock bull or AI, they can select traits, such as fertility or milk production, that they want to improve within the herd.

A farmer will get to keep the best of what they have. If you are trying to buy at the mart, you don’t know if you are getting the best of what that herd has to offer.

Not all, but in some cases there can be heifers sent to ordinary mart sales simply because they have an issue such as poor fertility or poor docility.

The reduced disease risk is another bonus. Not having to buy in replacements from other herds means that your mind can be at ease that no new diseases are entering from purchased females.

One disadvantage of this method of sourcing replacements is the lack of new genetics entering the herd. If trying to make genetic gains in quality, the cows you are looking to breed from may not be in your herd.

Sourcing replacements from outside of the herd

The sourcing of replacements from outside of the herd has both positives and negatives too. The main benefit is that farmers can source well structured and quality females that they may not already have in their herd.

If the herd is using a stock bull, it means that buying in heifers will reduce potential inbreeding. It can also allow farmers to enhance the genetic potential of their herd.

However, there is an increased risk of bringing in a disease, especially if you are unsure of the farm’s history which she came from.

If buying in heifers this spring for breeding, the sooner it can be done, the better. Having replacements on your farm in sufficient time before breeding will allow you to quarantine them from the the rest of the herd for the first few weeks – while also providing them with relevant pre-breeding vaccinations.

Where do I source replacements?

In an ideal scenario, you would be able to source replacements off a farm that you know and that you will get to have a good look at their selection of females for sale.

This would also give you a bit of a background into what you can expect, trait wise, from these heifers if you can view the farm’s herd of cows.

If this is not an option, you should keep an eye out for special breeding sales that are held in marts. Dispersal sales are also good for sourcing replacements.

Ordinary mart sales are another option for sourcing females, but ideally you should speak with the owner beforehand to check the background of the heifer they are selling and check that they are suitable for breeding.