With the cow herd at its lowest level since 1962, recent moderation in grain prices, and optimism for growth in domestic and export demand, the stage is set for expansion of the national beef cow herd. According to Iowa State University Extension beef cow-calf specialist Patrick Gunn, this has led to increased heifer retention numbers over the past two years. However, environmental and financial concerns have tempered that optimism.
"Previous droughts in many areas of the U.S., coupled with high feed and land prices in recent years, have undoubtedly hampered realization of true expansion to date," Gunn says. "However, with recent reductions in grain and land prices combined with both fed and feeder cattle markets now at record levels, it appears the national cow herd is ready to expand."
Importance of heifer development and maintenance
The recent price boom in all sectors of the beef industry translates to increased value (and cost) of replacement breeding stock, so it's important that operations planning to expand understand how to optimize reproductive efficiency and breeding herd longevity, Gunn adds. So, in 2012 and 2014, the Iowa Beef Center (IBC) at Iowa State University offered two educational series aimed at the development of yearling heifers and maintenance of the first-calf female.
"In conjunction with the Iowa Cattlemen's Association, in early 2014 the Iowa Beef Center offered a successful statewide educational program titled, 'Heifer Development: Maintaining Your Investment,'" Gunn says. "Through this program, best management practices from pregnancy-check as a yearling through breeding season as a two-year-old were outlined and resources shared."
Additional resources available online
Since then, IBC has received multiple requests for the same information. Staff and faculty members have created a series of YouTube videos and are compiling links to additional resources to meet this demand. Links to the videos and additional resources are available on the IBC website. Links to ten new videos that highlight best management practices of first-calf heifers, and eight videos from the 2012 educational series on best management practices for developing yearling females are now available. Additional resources will be added to the page as they are identified.
The Iowa Beef Center was established in 1996 with the goal of supporting the growth and vitality of the state's beef cattle industry. It comprises faculty and staff from Iowa State Extension and Outreach, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and College of Veterinary Medicine, and works to develop and deliver the latest research-based information regarding the beef cattle industry. For more information about the Iowa Beef Center, visit the IBC website.