Welcome back to the second and final part of our series which includes tips for getting your show heifers bred.
Let’s review what we have already discussed in Part I.
The first thing you are going to decide is whether you are going to AI or breed your heifer naturally. Then you are going to evaluate the EPDs of your heifer and the bulls you are considering. You will also assess the bulls phenotypically before making a decision. Next you will evaluate the BCS of your heifer to ensure she is at a score that is appropriate for optimal breeding. Finally, you should consider the pelvic measurement of the heifer.
Now let’s dive into more tips for breeding your show heifers.
Learn how to detect heats.
There are so many ways to detect heats in cattle these days. Things have sure changed over the years! Let’s discuss a few of the most popular.
1. Tail head rubs/tags
You can use tail head rubs or tags to indicate when your heifer has been ridden. These are pretty neat because they only rub off full force when your heifer is in standing heat. But you may want to stick with the crayon rubs rather than the tags if you are in the thick of show season. The tags use super sticky glue to make them stay attached. This glue will rip that tail head hair right off. On the other hand, the crayons are an oil-based paint stick that won’t cause too much damage, if any, to the hair. If you decide you want to use the self-adhesive tags, be sure to use regular show adhesive remover in order to loosen the tag up well before removing it.
Select Sires offers the Estrotect Breeding Indicator tail head rubs. Below you will see an example (photo provided by Select Sires) of what a rub looks like when it is time to AI your show heifer. Notice how much hair could be pulled off if adhesive remover isn’t used. Yikes! You won’t want a show heifer with no tail head hair, so use the adhesive remover!
2. Visual Observation
If you don’t want to risk that tail head hair at all, you can observe your heifer in the pasture. During breeding season, plan to spend at least 30 minutes every morning and evening watching the females. By watching heifers interact in the pasture, you can predict when they are in standing heat. Check out the video “Detection of Standing Estrus” to learn more. This is also a good method to use when you are bull breeding your heifers. Observation helps you predict insemination to calculate calving dates.
3. Gomer bull
Another option for heat detection is to use a gomer bull, sometimes known as a “teaser bull.” Though I admit, this method might not be for everyone. This would be especially true if you only had a few heifers to breed every year. The cost of keeping a gomer bull around probably couldn’t be justified. At the Silver Barn, we have three different calving seasons throughout the year, so luckily our gomer bull gets used on a regular basis.
Gomer bulls also have a reputation for being mean and a bit uncooperative, especially Jersey bulls. I have to say that our Jersey (lovingly named “Jersey Boy”) has actually been very cooperative, but it may be due to the method that was used to turn him into a gomer. He was surgically “re-routed” so that he still has plenty of drive to get the job done, but not the right aim. According to a research report by Mississippi State University Extension, this might actually be a better option than others for creating a gomer bull. You can check out the full report here at this link.
To settle or not to settle.
So now, you’ve taken all the steps to get your show heifer bred. But there is a show you REALLY want to attend, days after you got her bred. You are faced with yet another decision: Do you let her settle or not?
Some people don’t think twice about hauling even a week out from breeding. Others wait up to six weeks before they take a heifer to a show. What’s the difference?
I have a friend who transports heifers almost immediately after breeding. She believes that when show heifers are used to being on the road to shows, they don’t stress like other animals. So, as long as temperature conditions are favorable, she breeds and goes. This seems to work out o.k. for her. Granted, she doesn’t do this with all her girls, only the ones who are accustomed to being hauled.
Most veterinarians recommend waiting one heat cycle before your heifer hits the road.
We put a ton of value on cow productivity here at the Silver Barn and choose not to postpone breeding until after show season, though for some, this is an option. Instead we AI show heifers early in hope of calving them out early in the new year. This gives them at least 30-60 days at home with no hauling before going to the summer Junior Nationals. Plus, we’ve found it works better in our program to calve out the show heifers before we calve out the other first calf heifers, then the cows. Unfortunately, we haven’t had good luck in keeping a heifer settled when we haul her to shows immediately after breeding, no matter how many times she’s already been hauled.
We do have a Plan B to keep the kids in the showring, though. We typically keep multiple heifers in our show string, breeding each at different intervals, so that the kids have a heifer to show while others are settling.
By staggering breeding dates, we usually are able to have either an open heifer or a long-time bred heifer to take to shows. Although, at times, we simply have to skip taking heifers and only haul the steers.
Evaluate your Nutrition Program.
Finally, think about nutrition for your show heifer. Nutrition is much more than how much condition your heifer has on her. Once you get her bred, proper nutrition is important to ensure she stays bred and the calf is born healthy. While the fetus inside her grows, it is important to increase the protein intake of your heifer. Since the heifer is young and still growing, her needed protein intake will be higher than a mature cow. It’s important to monitor your heifer’s BCS throughout her pregnancy. You want to make sure your heifer carries enough flesh to create a healthy environment for the fetus. This ensures a thriving and healthy calf on the ground.
In the show world, however, we typically don’t see many underweight pregnant heifers. More often we tend to get them over-conditioned which can present even more problems. When a heifer is over-conditioned it increases the growth rate of the fetus inside her. Overfeeding your heifer in the last trimester will result in a large fetus. This leads to high birth rates which could result in calving difficulties.
To wrap it up, these are some tips and pointers that we’ve learned over the years while breeding heifers. We hope we’ve saved you some time–and heartache–by sharing our experiences with you.
Do you have a breeding tip you would like to share? We would love to hear your input. Please post your comments below.