More than 50 heifers from across the region and as far away as Montgomery, Alabama, will spend the next few months at Stephen F. Austin State University’s Walter C. Todd Agricultural Research Center during SFA’s third annual heifer development program designed to assist cattle producers in selecting and managing replacement heifers. It is now two months into the program, and Dr. Erin Brown, associate professor of animal science in the Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture, said the heifers are progressing well.
Brown explained that in the past it has often been less expensive for producers to purchase replacement heifers (a young cow before she has had her first calf) to maintain or expand a herd, but recent spikes in the cattle market have made it more economical for producers to raise their own. However, the nutritional and space requirements to do so can serve as a challenge for small-scale cattle producers.
“The average cattle producer in the U.S. has less than 50 head, and to keep a set of replacement females, you have to manage them differently,” Brown said. “You’re not going to feed a cow herd the same way you would feed a growing heifer.”
Nutrition is not the only concern for producers. They also must ensure that the young female cows are not bred too early—a task that requires separating the heifers from the herd.
“I’m a small operator, and that’s what makes this program so good,” said Wayne Mason, a cattle producer from Woden, Texas. “You don’t have to have a separate pasture away from bulls and everything. They take care of it for you right here.”
Mason has participated in SFA’s heifer development program for the past three years and said he plans to continue doing so in the future.
The program also serves as a learning opportunity for agriculture students who work at the SFA Beef Farm. Students are directly involved in feeding, as well as tracking and assessing the health of the heifers. Brown explained that changes in weather, such as temperature and precipitation, affect the feeding habits of livestock, so students must learn to adjust feed rations and assess the heifers’ needs daily. Producers receive monthly reports regarding the progress of each heifer and are notified if one is not suitably developing.
“To be able to send your heifers to this program is like sending a child to boarding school,” said Chris Koffskey, SFA Beef Farm supervisor. “I met a guy yesterday who said, ‘I’m ready to drop my heifers off for winter boot camp.’”
At the end of the program, producers also may have their heifers artificially inseminated for an additional fee.
For more information regarding SFA’s heifer development program, contact Brown at (936) 468-4433, or Koffskey at (936) 468-6948.
Students from SFA’s Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture play an integral role in managing and tracking the progress of heifers in the college’s heifer development program, hosted by the SFA Department of Agriculture. Pictured, Cody Harris, right, Dustin Black and Portia Smith document the weight of heifers upon program entry. Students are responsible for tracking the health, weight and development of the heifers throughout the program.