Weekly genetics review: Making more informed heifer selection decisions

Decisions on heifer selection and retention for breeding are never ones to be taken lightly. A heifer represents not only the next generation of breeding potential for a herd, but she also reflects the prior investment in genetics, as well as determining the productivity and profitability of the herd for most of the next decade.

Choosing which heifers to retain can be an issue for producers for various reasons. In years of herd expansion, the choices made on retention are often less severe on individuals, as producers opt to give themselves the opportunity to keep as many potential breeders as possible with the aim of achieving their desired herd size.

In other years, compromises occur as a result of seasonal conditions and market opportunities.

Many producers approach the selection of breeders with some degree of criteria in mind.  Often it is associated with weight, temperament and physical appearance or structure. While these can be reasonably objective criteria, there are often underlying issues that may impact on the physical appearance of the heifers that are yarded-up on selection day.

Broader herd issues, such as length of joining, will impact on heifer weights or comparing heifers born from first-calf mothers to those of older breeders. These two situations are not uncommon for many producers who are attempting to evaluate just what influence these may have on the animals in front of them.

As well as considering the animals in their current condition, selection also has a component that is harder to know: predicting what these animals may be capable of achieving as they grow and mature.

Ideally, producers want to know that the animals they choose to retain will display the best genetic potential possible for their program, and make the greatest contribution to the overall profitability of an enterprise.

In commercial situations, producers who use sires with high-accuracy EBVs and maintain accurate records on breeding herd performance can have some degree of confidence in the females they select to retain.

Allowing for differences in first-calf females and having defined management targets for those heifers in the lead up to their first joining can be two very effective strategies to ensure investment in the herds genetic potential is not overlooked in the drafting yard.

Smaller or younger heifers can be the result of management decisions, and this needs to be accounted-for in selection.

BEEF CENTRAL Genetics Editor Alastair Rayner, April 6, 2021