Heifer development seminar opens doors to understanding
DUBLIN, Va. — A meeting here Nov. 21 designed to help beef producers get the most from their heifers became a window to the larger world of beef cattle.
Two Extension advisors — Dr. Vitor Mercandante, a Virginia Tech assistant professor and Extension specialist in integrated beef cattle production systems and Morgan Paulette, Pulaski county Extension agent — shared their very different experiences within the national and international world of beef during their opening presentations.
Mercandante opened his talk at the Seminar for Heifer Development for farmers in the New River Valley with maps and pictures of his native Brazil as he compared the beef industries in the United States and Brazil.
The Brazillian cattle industry has about 212 million head, the largest commercial herd in the world. Most of these cattle, 90 percent, are finished on grass.
The U.S. herd numbers 94 million head, he said, but producers are much more efficient at raising animals to market weight.
“You guys are very good at producing beef.” he said. “The beef production in the U.S. is unbelievable. You produce more with less.”
He noted that the average herd size in Brazil is 500 but some are as large as 5,000. In the United States, the average is 35.
Mercandante grew up working with cattle on his grandfather’s farm of about 1,500 cows.
On beef heifer development, Mercandante said the first step is having a plan. He called it a job description for a cow.
“Write it down,” he said.
Number one on his list is seeing that heifers calve by 24 months of age.
He urged the farmers to have a well-defined breeding season.
He said 365 days a year is not a breeding season and recommended a 100-day period.
Seeing that heifers calf early in that season is important, he added.
He pointed to research that indicates that the time in the season when the first calf is born seems to affect the rest of the cow’s life.
He said the research tends to show early breeders/calvers tend to do better throughout their lives. He said about 60 percent of the cows in the United States. have a breeding season.
Identification of the animals and record keeping play important roles in the plan, he said.
He urged the farmers to use systems they understand and to be faithful and consistent in their record keeping.
Mercandante went into detail about artificially inseminating heifers, outlining protocols to be followed. This led to much discussion between him and farmers during the question and answer session as the evening ended.
Mercandante invited farmers to contact him at 540-231-9153 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on heifer development and other issues.
Paulette reported on his recent trip to Ohio and Indiana with the Virginia Cattlemen’s Association fieldman Butch Foster to feedlots where cattle from Virginia farms are fed.
Paulette said he and Foster visited farmers who have between 150 and 400 cattle in their feedlots are very pleased with Virginia cattle.
He said most of them are crop producers as well and many feed the cattle at least some of what they grow.
Paulette said these buyers like Virginia cattle for a variety of reasons, many the result of the Virginia Quality Assurance Program.
These include the fact that the cattle stay healthy or respond well to treatment when they do get sick; are uniform; are of good quality with no extremes; are bunk broke, come quickly to feed; and arrive to the feed lot with good nutrition.
Mercandante who is part of a research and Extension group, works in the basic and applied sciences interface to develop technologies and strategies and provide solutions to beef producers worldwide.
He said the group has a special interest in reproductive efficiency, and nutrition and reproduction interactions.
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