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BEEF HEIFER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS THAT REDUCE THE UTILIZATION OF HIGH COST FEEDSTUFFS WHILE MAINTAINING REPRODUCTIVE PERFORMANCE
Current low input heifer development strategies (Funston and Deutscher, 2004; Martin et al., 2008) rely on a post-weaning limit feeding approach that attempts to limit body weight gains to 50 to 55% of their anticipated mature body weight. Granted, using these strategies, input costs can be reduced compared to traditional heifer development programs. However, the proportion of heifers reaching puberty prior to breeding season is significantly lower compared to traditional heifer development programs. Therefore, more efficacious low input heifer development strategies are warranted given the current cost of high energy feedstuffs. Data (Wiltbank et al., 1966; Arije and Wiltbank, 1971; Buskirk et al., 1995; Gasser et al., 2006d) suggests that nutritional inputs and body weight gains prior to 200 days impact age at puberty to a greater extent than does body weight gains following 200 days of age. Based on these observations, alternative low input heifer development strategies that rely on targeting the stage of development when increased nutritional inputs are delivered followed by a low input forage-based program may be as effective as traditional heifer development strategies and more effective than targeting 50-55% of mature body weight at breeding. Such a strategy will lower the amount of feedstuffs required to develop heifers to the desired body weight without compromising sexual maturation or reproductive performance in the replacement heifers. Current feeder calf production systems rely heavily on feeding high levels of corn to increase carcass quality. While this system has been effective in producing quality carcasses at an acceptable body weight for over a decade, cattle feeders lost an average of over $50 per head in 2006 and 2007 (CattleNetwork, 2007). A philosophical change towards low input systems that produce highly quality cattle grown to equivalent market weights is necessary if the U.S. is to remain a leader in world markets. The proposed management strategy for heifers will reduce the amount of high valued feeds fed throughout the life cycle of beef cattle. Although calves will consume a relatively expensive diet for the first 100 days following weaning, these cattle will weigh between 150 to 295 kg which means they will consume less total feed compared to heavier cattle fed high concentrate diets. Moreover, feeding less expensive, lower quality feeds during later stages of development, when calf dry matter intake increases, will substantially reduce the cost of feeding developing heifers. It anticipated, that such a strategy will aslso result in improved performance compared to traditional feeding practices. According to our calculations, using current market prices of traditional feedstuffs for rations designed to achieve a predetermined performance , we suggest a savings of over $36 per heifer may be realized by utilizing our proposed low input development system. The savings anticipated with such a shift in management practices could prove to be the difference between operations being profitable or not in a given year. This type of research is highly warranted and valuable to US agriculture.
USDA CRIS Project Information Link: 0217956