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Developing heifers can be among the most expensive practices in many beef production businesses (Sprinkle, 2000). We have heard time and again about the importance of getting heifers bred at high rates. The logic used is that it is expensive to develop heifers, so you can reduce the cost of a pregnant heifer by improving pregnancy rates. This tends to lead into a cycle of adding more costs to further increase pregnancy rates. A production driven approach to developing heifers may have negative impacts on ranch profitability.
It is generally recommended that heifers need to be developed to 60-65% of mature weight by the start of the breeding season (Patterson et al., 1992). Many producers will develop heifers to an average 70% of mature weight to make sure that near all heifers in the group are in the target range. Indeed, studies have shown that heifers developed to lower weights can have longer post-partum intervals (Patterson et al., 1991). In addition, some research has shown a clear relationship between dietary energy levels during development and heifer pregnancy rates (Lemenager et al., 1980).
We will discuss current research and production practices that challenge some of these recommendations and also take a look at different approaches to developing heifers. The degree and timing of inputs into heifer development systems can have marked effects on net returns. It is crucial that heifer development be considered from an economic standpoint, not simply a production-based perspective.