Buy or Raise Replacements Heifers

Buying versus Raising Replacement Heifers

      Dr. Dillon Feuz, University of Nebraska Agricultural Economist at the Panhandle Research Station recently addressed the issue of raising versus buying replacement heifers. He carefully examined the costs of raising replacements and correctly included the value of increased carrying capacity of the operation, if replacements are purchased. Using cattle prices and input prices that are in line with today's markets, Dr. Feuz arrives at a "cost" of raising a bred commercial replacement heifer at approximately $700. The details that make up these costs can be located in a paper entitled "The Costs of Raising Replacement Heifers and the Value of A Purchased Versus Raised Replacement." He concludes that a typical ranch could carry 15% more cows, if the replacements were purchased each year. With that included in the economic analysis, another $75 dollars might be added to the potential breakeven value of purchased replacements.

     Dr. Feuz points out that his economic analysis does not include genetic quality differences that may exist between purchased and raised heifers. This however is an important consideration. Some commercial operations may find it very difficult to cost effectively purchase replacements that are genetically equal or superior to those raised at home. Others may greatly benefit from the genetic improvement provided by heifers purchased from another operation.

     No consideration in the decision to "Raise" or "Buy" is greater than herd health. Producers must know the origin of potential replacement heifers and have confidence that the herd from which they came is free from any serious disease problem. Work with your local veterinarian to discuss which herd health issues must be addressed before bringing cattle into your operation from elsewhere. Begin the discussion with diseases such as brucellosis, tuberculosis, and Johnes disease. Include in the list of diseases with which to be cautious: Respiratory diseases such as infectious bovine rhinotracheitis (IBR), bovine viral diarrhea (BVD types I and II), bovine respiratory syncytial virus (BRSV) and parainfluenza (PI). Clostridial diseases (such as blackleg and malignant edema) and Leptospirosis can be prevented successfully with proper vaccination programs. Nonetheless, they must be included in the herd health program of the herd of origin for purchased replacement heifers. Buyers of replacement cattle need to be especially mindful of the incidence of Johnes Disease in any herd from which replacements are purchased. Many ranchers are unfamiliar with Johnes Disease. Increased concern about Johnes is derived from increased incidence of the disease in Midwestern and Southwestern beef herds. Likewise, the buyer must be cautious of the hidden form of BVD sometimes called Persistently Infected BVD. In this instance, healthy appearing cattle may be carrying and shedding the virus. They are difficult to find without proper blood testing.

     Before replacement heifers are bought and brought into your herd, know the health history of the heifers and herd from which they came. Any economic advantage in buying replacements would be quickly wiped out by importing a costly disease into your healthy herd.

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