6 Things to Look for in Black Angus Replacement Heifers
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
It's about that time of year again, when farmers are studying and picking out good traits and characteristics from the new batch of calves for 2021 replacement heifers. They want to support their herd with the best of the best.
Have you started your search for black Angus replacement heifers?
With the many black Registered Angus heifers for sale at Pat Kirk’s farm this year, I wanted to know, “What replacement heifer characteristics should a person be looking for in the 2021 Angus calves for sale, and what are the criteria for choosing a heifer that will add value to your herd’s breeding stock?”
Being somewhat new to the Angus cattle business, I called Pat up to ask him these very questions.
He gave me 6 main characteristics to look for in a good Angus replacement heifer. Since Pat has been in the business of cattle farming since he was a kid and has owned his own calf-cow Angus cattle farm in Iowa since the 1990s, I figured he is an expert on the subject.
This blog is for you. Whether you’re just getting started with the Angus breed or are a seasoned cattle farmer, there are 6 Angus cattle characteristics you should be looking for when selecting replacement heifers.
#1 Cow conformation
The first thing Pat Kirk said to examine in a replacement heifer is conformation.
Because Angus cow size can determine how well your cow will calve AND how easily a calf can be calved, this is one of the most important things to look at before buying a replacement heifer.
Cattle structure plays a lot into whether or not a calf will get caught up inside its mother during the calving process. If a mother cow has good, proportionate conformation, meaning that is she not overly square or stocky, she will likely pass down those same genetics her black Angus calves. On the other hand, a cow with poor conformation, an overly square look, would be more likely to produce a genetically disproportionate calf: one that would not birth easily.
Pat Kirk’s rule of thumb: “You have to keep in mind how they are going to calve.”
Here are a few additional conformation characteristics to look for in your replacement heifer:
Since we’re talking about Angus cattle size, let’s also consider few things you should avoid when choosing a replacement heifer. Pat warned to avoid a barrel gut, heifers with flanks that extend clear up by the back legs, and cattle that have an overly square shape (as mentioned above). If these disadvantages of Angus cattle sizing are present, they will likely create issues with calving or produce low-quality beef animals.
Because you want a healthy, productive, and lucrative herd, you’ll want to breed only the best beef cattle conformation back into your herd. Aside from Angus health and meat production, good cattle conformation also makes calving easier. These are all confirmation benefits you’ll want in a replacement heifer.
#2 Cow Temperament
Angus cattle temperament is also important. Aside from being easy to handle, Pat Kirk explains, as always, you’ll want to pass down and develop good genetics for even-tempered animals in your herd. Does the black Angus heifer you’re considering calm easily, or does she seem flighty and nervous?
Just today, I was taking a walk with my dog down a familiar gravel road where a variety of cattle pastured. As we walked, I noticed that the calves, now well grown, and their mothers were afraid of us. They left the edge of the fence and trotted almost 100 yards to get away from us. They were mooing the whole way, warning their friends of our presence.
This is not at all like the experiences I’ve had with Pat’s calves. The Pat Kirk Angus cattle are curious, more than anything, and they will actually come towards you. You can read a story about one of my first encounters with them here.
Pat Kirk’s herd, including the replacement quality heifers he has for sale this year, are good-tempered in part because of their genetics and partly because Pat makes an effort to socialize them. After each calf is born, Pat’s goal is to get them ear tagged and to examine their health. They have early human exposure. Between this and the daily presence of Jay, Pat’s cattle dog, and plain old good genetics, Pat Kirk Angus cattle are marked by being “not nervous animals,” in Pat’s own words.
What makes calves even-tempered?
A few things. One main identification that plays into cow temperament is whol position. If you’re not sure what that is, hop on over to our blog about how to choose an even-tempered Angus animal. But long story short, science is proving that the position of the colic on an animal’s face indicates or how docile or aggressive that animal is.
Needless to say, another important thing to observe is herd temperament. When choosing heifers for replacement, what herd characteristics can you observe? Is the herd known for being easy to work with? Do they calm easily when something upsets them? Have they had exposure to humans?
As you may be gathering, both genetics and learned factors play into the docility of an Angus herd. Herd temperament can tell you some about the temperaments of individual heifers from that herd.
While overall, the Angus cattle breed produces high-quality mothers, you should know that the breed also tends to produce protective mothers. Angus cow instinct to protect their young can be dangerous at times. So just keep that in mind when choosing a black Angus replacement heifer.
#3 Angus Cattle Genetics
We all know that Angus cattle genetics are important, but Pat Kirk points specifically to the genetics of sires in the Angus bloodlines of replacement heifers. Black Angus sires play a large role in determining whether their heifers will produce good genetic traits or bad ones.
What should you look for in bloodline sire’s genetics?
Check out paternal heritage in the Angus Sire Evaluation Reports on the National Angus Association website. You can look up Angus sire EPDs (Expected Progeny Differences) for milking genetics, confirmation, birth weight, beef genetics, and more.
EPDs can give you and look into the potential a sire’s calves have for being good mothers and passing on superior genetics.
In the search page of the Sire Evaluation Reports, you can search just about any category: production qualities, maternal characteristics, carcass sizes, animal value, year of birth (or a range of years), registration number, or sire name.
Are you looking for some specific genetic traits in cattle, like calving ease percentages? Just type that in.
Angus sire EPDs are a great way to evaluate prospective replacement heifer claves.
Take a minute to look up Pat Kirk’s Angus sires for this year's heifer's, and see how they stand up against the competition. The 5 sires Pat bred this year are Payweight, Pendleton, Irish, Mandan, and Double Vision. The black Angus bloodline his herd originated from includes other phenomenal sires like the bull Quality Event that that placed at the Chicago Cattle Congress in 1953 and Crugeranne of Donmerre 490 from the Denver Stock Show. Pat Kirk’s registered Angus replacement heifers for sale have proven genetics in 2021 and every year!
What genetics will you look for in your replacement heifers?
#4 Rate of Gain
Pat Kirk says the fourth big thing to look for in a replacement calf is weight gain rates.
Why? Well, how quickly an animal gains weight directly affects its turn-around rate and your own rate of gain – financial gain, that is.
Since it is well documented that pure-bred Angus often have a higher and quicker average cattle weight gain than other breeds, what standard for weight gain should you look for in a replacement heifer? Anywhere in the three pound daily, average range is considered an acceptable for beef cattle.
Especially since the Angus cattle breed is bred for meat quality and quantity, genetic predisposition for weight gain is something you’ll want to know about before purchasing a replacement heifer. EPD’s can help here too.
A few years back, Pat Kirk enrolled a handful of his cows in a study put on by Purina Chow and the Bruntlett Elevator in Gallery, IA. This experimental study aimed at evaluating how cattle would do on their feed regimen. Pat’s cows, along with cattle donated by 10 to 12 other, local producers, were weighed in and out of the program. Can you guess what the results were? Pat Kirk’s cows were at the top of the average daily gain for cattle in that study. They gained an average 3 pound range per day!
Needless to say, when choosing a replacement heifer, look at their genetic factors for rate of gain.
#5 Easy Keepers
When Pat Kirk mentioned this replacement heifer characteristic– “Easy Keeper” – I was a little confused. What does it mean to be an easy keeper?
It has a lot to do with both the labor and resources each animal requires. More specifically, how much food the heifer needs to survive and thrive and how well she converts that food to growth.
According to a document produced by the USDA called “Feed and Animal Management for Beef Cattle,” there is a fine line between wasting energy by over feeding cattle and providing enough energy for consistent, exponential growth. To determine how much feed is required for your beef animals at any stage, check out the charts on this document. But also keep in mind that life-style, weather conditions, and other external and internal factors impact the amount of energy your replacement heifer may require.
(Graph taken from NMtn2.pmd (usda.gov).)
Genetic characteristics of Angus cattle for being easy keepers are traits you’ll want to know about before making your choice of a replacement heifer.
#6 Calving Ease
Last, but certainly not least is calving ease. Pat Kirk emphasized the importance of keeping in mind how a perspective heifer would calve.
Thankfully, here again, the Sire Evaluation Reports we talked about earlier can help us out. Each set of EPDs should show calving ease calculations.
But wait! What does calving ease mean?
A document produced by the National Angus Association, explains that the calving ease calculation is made up of both a calving ease score and by calf birth weight, and it aims at portraying genetic predisposition for ease of calving.
Let’s break that down.
The calving ease score is a measurement of how hard or easy it was for a calf to be born. For example, a score of one means that an Angus cow delivered without assistance. Two means she had some assistance. Three, indicates mechanical assistance and so on. As you can see, the lower the score, the better calving ease should be. In fact, anything over a five indicates that the calf did not survive birth. Not good!
The second part of the calving ease rating, calf birth weight, is also a vitally important factor. Studies have shown that the heavier the calf at birth, the more difficult the delivery. Director of research at the National Angus Association, Sally Northcutt, explains that “Heavier-birth-weight calves tend to be associated with the potential for a higher numerical calving score in heifers — increasing potential for assisted births." That makes sense! As calf size increases, so does the likelihood for difficulty in birth.
According to Pat Kirk, the ideal birth weight for a black Angus calf is 85 lbs.
This year, the Pat Kirk calves maintained a basic birth weight between 75-90 lbs. including both heifers and bulls, and of the over 55 calves born on the farm, he had only 2 born over 100 lbs. That's reason to praise the Lord!
Now, all this is fine and dandy if you have a cow with a history of having calves, but when you’re choosing a replacement heifer, how can you know what kind of calving ease she will have? Since she has not yet calved, is there an indication of genetic predisposition that we can look at to determine how she will calve?
Fortunately, there is.
We can look at the calving ease bull numbers on the Sire Evaluation Reports to help us predict calving ease for replacement heifers.
You’ll notice that on EPDs, calving ease is represented by two categories: “CED” and “CEM”.
“CED” stands for calving ease direct, and is an expected percentage of deliveries that require no intervention or assistance. CED predicts the outcomes of a sire’s first-calves born. More simply put, it aims to show whether or not a farmer or veterinarian will have to step in to help with the calving process for a first- time mother or, conversely, if the cow will be able to calve successfully on her own.
The “CEM” EPD stands for calving ease maternal, and the number predicts the assistance a sire’s daughters will require in birthing their first calves. Will the daughters of a bull deliver without assistance or will someone need to step in to help?
Consider all of these caving ease factors together to help you decide if a heifer is replacement quality. You can find out more about EPD calving ease numbers in this article by the National Angus Association (2005).
You've Got This!
You are now equipped expert advice from a calf-cow farmer who has been molding and improving his own herd for over 20 years. Take these top 6 key characteristics of good replacement heifers with you as you research potential Angus cows, and have fun growing your own herd’s genetics!
P.S. Are you looking for an Angus replacement heifers for sale in Iowa - ones that perform in terms of conformation, temperament, genetics, rate of gain, ease of maintenance, and calving ease? You got it!
Since the Pat Kirk registered Angus heifers for sale this year come from a closed herd dating back to the 1930s, only the best Angus cow qualities have been bred back into the herd, along with the added, long-line of high-quality Angus sires marked by superior EPD numbers. Contact us to learn more. We would love to add value to your herd and find good homes for this year’s heifers so they can go on to serve you as high-performing mothers.