Replacement beef heifers are bred to produce their first calf at approximately 2 years of age, requiring attainment of puberty and conception by 14 to 16 months of age. Heifers conceiving and calving early their first breeding and calving season, respectively, will produce more and heavier calves during their lifetime. Puberty is critically dependent on adequate nutrition. Heifers should reach a target weight equal to approximately 65% of their mature body weight a minimum of three weeks prior to breeding. Example: A replacement heifer weighs 225 kg on November 1, three weeks before breeding occurs on May 1, 180 days later. Assuming the target weight is 340 kg, the heifer must gain 115 kg in 180 days, for a daily gain of 0.64 kg. Heifers must reach this weight and puberty goal prior to the breeding season to prevent breeding at their first (pubertal) estrus (heat), because conception rates improve approximately 15% from breeding at a later estrus, compared to breeding at the pubertal estrus. Excessive feeding is costly and has detrimental effects on fertility, subsequent calving ease, and milk production. Ionophore feed additives will improve weight gains and hasten puberty. Separation of heifers into heavy- and lightweight groups for feeding can improve the puberty percentage by reducing social competition. Commercial heifer development and breeding companies are available.
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