Livestock Production

Raising Heifers vs. Purchasing Heifers: What’s the Best Beef Cow Replacement Strategy?

Acquiring replacements is a major cost for most beef producers, and the choices you make from year to year can affect your herd for generations to come. While there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the replacements question, there are ways you can assess your operation and determine what makes more sense as far as cost and viability.

It’s more traditional for producers to raise heifers than to buy them, but regardless, it’s important to routinely determine the most economical choice by assessing factors such as:

  • Feed costs
  • Labor costs
  • Genetics
  • Cattle prices
  • Cash flow requirements
  • Environmental and weather factors
  • Tax implications

Advantages of Raising Heifers: Genetics, Nutrition, and Heifer Development

When you raise your own replacement heifers, it’s typically easier to manage genetics according to how you’d like your future herd to look. You can make breeding decisions and bull purchases based on female fertility and then see the results as overall fertility and mothering abilities increase. And because cow temperament is a highly heritable trait, keeping heifers with calm dispositions can improve long-term herd behavior and reduce stress. It’s also worth mentioning that you’ll be able to breed for proper milk production if you raise heifers, a trait that helps decrease the long-term odds of culling.

Many studies exist that indicate how managing heifer nutrition during development affects health across the animal’s lifetime, from fertility and BCS to milk production and calf weaning weights. By owning this advantage, you can set your heifers up for optimal lifetime performance. Additionally, since you know everything about their health, nutrition, and handling—the long-term value of your entire herd will increase.

Last but not least, think about what it’s like to retain heifers raised by mature cows on your own range. They don’t need to adjust to terrain or landscape, and they’re better suited to climate and conditions than purchased heifers would be.

Advantages of Buying Heifers: Resources and Genetics

It may not be feasible for you to raise heifers separately from your mature cows, so if this is the case, purchasing high-quality bred and developed heifers can help you save on labor, cash flow, and space. It may cost you more dollar wise, but the tradeoff might be more than you initially thought in terms of time savings and feed resources.

Some beef producers will raise their own bulls and instead buy replacement heifers to introduce new genetics to the herd. With enough quality heifers typically available for purchase, this can be a great option if you’re looking for new traits in your herd. Some beef producers won’t buy heifers at all and instead buy mature, bred cows or pairs and just keep running age cows; this can somewhat decrease risk of heifer fallout while also introducing new traits to the herd.

Weighing Your Heifer Replacement Options

Overall, when you look at raising heifers versus purchasing, be sure to consider each option’s additional costs and benefits so you can make good business decisions and keep your ranch profitable and successful. To that end, you need to understand the true, managerial cost of raising those heifers until they’re put into service. Developing a heifer to maturity can cost way more sometimes than what it would have if you’d sold her earlier and spared your resources. As you weigh the options, consult with your local extension agent, nutritionist, or our ag risk consultant for help and additional insights as needed.

You can find useful spreadsheets on raising and buying heifers here.


Redd Summit Advisors understands the complexities involved in herd management decisions and supports beef producers and ranchers by helping them secure PRF and LRP insurance to mitigate operational risks. Contact us at 1-800-825-2355 for more information and follow our blog to stay up to date on risk management, ranch operations, weather, and the markets.

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