Chips Heifer Development Program

Byron M. Leu, livestock field specialist

Beef heifer development is typically a challenge for most cow/calf producers in southern Iowa. First-calf heifers need to be managed and developed as a separate group from the mature cows, which is difficult for many small producers. This requires extra facilities, a specific feeding program to meet the growing heifer’s nutrient requirements, calving ease bulls to maintain calf quality and reduce dystocia problems, and the extra labor necessary to address these concerns.

In 1997, ISU Livestock Field Specialist Byron Leu and the Area 1 CHIPS technicians initiated the first CHIPS Heifer Development Program. This effort followed a survey/questionnaire mailing that indicated that 14 of 20 CHIPS cooperators surveyed were interested in the central heifer development approach. This positive response led to the initiation of the program. A CHIPS Heifer Development Board (three producers) was established, guidelines for the program were drafted, and goals outlined. The overall goals included: develop the first-calf heifer at an acceptable growth rate and body condition, improve the genetic base of a participant’s replacements, improve calf quality, improve heifer management strategies, and breed by AI to calving ease bulls. A location for the central test was selected by the Board members through a ‘bid’ approach.

The Board members, CHIPS technicians and Leu developed the protocol for the program before heifers were consigned. Through this effort, cooperators were aware of entry requirements, health and vaccination requirements, the feedlot expectations, billing procedures, and the management program for the project. The procedures and guidelines developed by the group reflected that the heifers would be individually monitored, target weights established, breeding protocol outlined, and bull specifications determined. Feed and yardage bills would be paid monthly and other costs were paid from a deposit designed to pay for management services (i.e., AI charges, tags, other expenses).

At breeding time, qualifying heifers were synchronized using the MGA-Lutalyse method. Heifers were bred AI from sires with known genetics, and leased clean-up bulls meeting program specifications were used for the remainder of the breeding programs (66-72 days). The females were ultrasounded to determine pregnancy in August with the program ending approximately September 1.

This initial effort in 1997 was successful. Ten cooperators consigned 207 heifers with 199 completing the November-September program. 92% were determined to be pregnant with 60-65% of the heifers bred AI. The cost per heifer averaged $1.14 per heifer project day.
The program has continued to serve the participating CHIPS cooperators over the past seven years. Minor changes have been implemented over this time frame to adjust to industry changes and feed cost changes. Over the past seven years, the CHIPS Heifer Development Program has had 6-10 cooperators consigning heifers per year—with over 800 heifers completing the project.

The CHIPS Heifer Development Program has definitely had an impact on both the project cooperators as well as producers who have requested the results/guidelines of this program. Following are selected impact areas:

Cooperation: The success of this program over seven years reflects that producers with varying backgrounds, genetics and resources can work together to accomplish common goals. The ‘cooperation’ issue is paramount as producers look for ways to network and partner in today’s competitive ag sector.

Heifer Development Cost Information: The cost summaries that have been developed annually give producers cost estimates they can use to make breeding herd decisions. Over the seven years the CHIPS Heifer Development program has existed, the costs to develop a heifer per day during this production stage has averaged $1.03 per day (range: $0.92-1.14 per heifer day). This cost reflects feed expenses (feedlot and pasture), breeding costs, semen and bull expenses, AI technician charges, health updates, yardage, identification, and ultrasound charges. Producers are using this type of information as breeding herd decisions are finalized.

Business Opportunity: The same family (Dan Payne operation in Davis County) has hosted the project over the past seven years. When CHIPS discontinued services in the fall of 2003, the Payne family decided to continue the Heifer Development program as an independent business venture. Many of the previous cooperators have consigned heifers and the project is being operated and managed by the Payne family.

Management Techniques Demonstration: The CHIPS Heifer Development program was instrumental in demonstrating heifer breeding management techniques that can positively influence a cow-calf operation. Without question, producers throughout the area had the opportunity to observe the management schemes that were incorporated into the project. These methods were cost effective and also accomplished the goals established by the Board. Plus, the system worked—Over the seven project years, over 800 head of heifers have completed the program, 92% were evaluated as bred during the breeding period—with over 60% bred AI following the synchronization period. Plus, cooperators have reported minimal calving problems, reflecting that the calving ease EPD technology is working!

Working with the CHIPS Heifer Development Program has been a very positive experience. Without question, the program has been very successful and has moved a number of producers to the ‘next’ level. It has been rewarding to successfully demonstrate management schemes that are cost effective and still meet or exceed the production goals of the cooperators.

Page last updated: July 8, 2006
Page maintained by Linda Schultz,