In reality our herd is old. I'm pretty sure the average age is 10 or so and we are rocking 19 year old Shamrock Kate as our herd matriarch and Hatfield Hollow Missy is close behind at 18. So we do have to start to think about replacing some of these old girls at some point in time. Like I said, our herd is old, but that's bound to happen when you are breeding cattle for that longevity factor.
So, what's on the top of the list when we are looking at heifer calves to retain in the breeding herd? Good question. Most people will have their own answers to that question. What goes into looking for a calf that will last 20 years? Also a crap shoot. Lots of factors will determine that. But to start out there are a few details that we do like to look for...
1. Feet and Legs
As I have written about in the past form=function. If a heifer (or any animal) cannot move about with ease, meaning if they are post legged, sickle hocked, pigeon toed, etc and cannot walk properly then we can have major problems. Not being able to move means not being able to easily maneuver to get to feed. No feed=not fulfilling growth potential. Post legs can also lead to arthritis in the hips and other joints in the future where as sickle hocks can cause overgrown hooves that can lead to lameness.
2. Body Capacity
Heifers have to have enough rib and depth of body to be able to grow a calf as well as have enough room for all of her internal organs. Big ribbed heifers are more "broody" looking. They need to carry that depth of body all the way from their chest to their flanks. Being bold ribbed means that she will be able to eat and retain body condition through her pregnancy a whole lot easier.
Even if the heifers you are looking at keeping or purchasing are not pocket cows or halter broke, that doesn't mean that they have a bad disposition. A bad disposition would be calves that are on the alert , have the "radar" going as we like to say. Ears are up and eyes are wide... looking for any escape or danger possible. Don't knowingly add problems to your herd with nutty heifers.
Looking for longevity? Select heifers from cows that easily breed back and have for years. They should be your prime candidates for replacements. Longevity breeds longevity. Like I said at the beginning, our oldest cow is 19 years old. We have kept a handful of daughters out of her as well as her last bull calf, Shamrock Finn. We will be keeping her 2019 heifer as well.
5. Do they fit YOUR breeding program?
Any heifer that you decide to keep or purchase needs to be able to fit into your breeding program. What are you goals? Are you selecting for specific traits? Dairy or beef? While we do focus on beef production, cows still need to have good udders! Yes, we have some that are definitely more undesirable as far as their udder attachments, but they are still able to raise and produce a calf that is better than themselves.
6. Does color, polled, or A2 status really matter to you?
My opinion? Color doesn't matter and we don't breed for specific colors. We have all 3 in our cow herd with varying shades of dun and red. Our bulls are black and dun. This was the first year that we haven't had any red calves born in years. It was a different sight to see. Not a bad one, just different. We have 3 polled cows in our herd. All were bought and not because they were polled but because we looked at the pedigree behind those cows. Otherwise, our entire herd is either horned or dehorned. As for A2? Definitely not something we put any weight on in our selection process.
7. Do they look like Dexters?
All in all, do they even look like a Dexter? Are they from registered stock that has the parentage DNA testing to back that up? I've seen some Dexters that look more like Angus and to me that face/eye is undesirable. But that's my opinion.
Like I said in point #5, do they fit into your program? Will they be able to serve their purpose for you? We have a large herd somehow now pushing 90(!) I love these cows. Each one has their flaws, and I am not blind to those. It's just our job to select and breed to bulls that can improve upon those.