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Tailor-made heifers

By Justin Rhinehart, Associate Professor & Extension Beef Cattle Specialist, University of Tennessee 5/24/2019

In 2015, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture (UT AgResearch and UT Extension) “cut the ribbon” on a new program that started as a simple idea — to raise other producers’ replacement heifers so those heifers would last longer as mature cows and allow the owners more space for cows that would wean a calf.

To get that idea up and running, we partnered with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture to construct a heifer development facility at the UT AgResearch & Education Center in Lewisburg. Tennessee Farmers Cooperative joined the effort as a third partner, supporting the program by designing/installing the handling/feeding facilities and providing continued support for management of health and nutrition.

The concept behind the program is relatively simple. At weaning, producers can send commercial or registered heifers to be raised at the facility through their first breeding season. At the end of the program, heifers can be taken back to their home farm, or we can sell them for the producer through several marketing opportunities.

Prior to delivery, the heifers should have received at least one round of vaccinations. They are vaccinated again at delivery, tested for a panel of diseases to maintain biosecurity, and given another booster vaccination two weeks later. They are managed to reach approximately 70 percent of their expected mature weight before the start of the breeding season by utilizing primarily grazed forage, with hay and supplemental feed provided as needed, to reach that target.

The breeding season starts with timed artificial insemination (AI), with additional inseminations on natural heat during the remainder of the breeding season for those that did not settle to the first breeding. Any AI sire can be used, provided it meets Tennessee Agricultural Enhancement Program (TAEP) genetic requirements as a calving ease bull and the semen is collected at a CSS-certified facility. Producers can choose to have heifers put with a calving ease Angus clean-up sire after the second insemination, or we will AI them a third time if the clean-up bull does not meet needs for breed or genetics. Pregnancy status is confirmed before the heifers are picked up or offered for sale. Owners receive reports on gain, hip height, frame score, disposition score, pelvic area measurement, and carcass ultrasound.

This year’s fall-born heifers (born September through early November) will be accepted, based on information submitted on a simple form, at the Lewisburg facility on July 8-9, 2019, bred December 2019 through February 2020, and returned or sold in May 2020. A separate group of spring-born heifers will be accepted in October. The TAEP provides a scholarship, which covers a significant amount of the development cost for up to four heifers per owner.

If you are interested in sending fall-born heifers to the program this July and would like more details, please contact your local UT Extension agent or one of us who work with the program directly. You can also visit the program’s website for videos and a more detailed description ( We will be hosting an open house at the facility on Friday, June 7, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. CDT and would be delighted for you to drop in or ask questions.

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