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Sunflower Supreme heifer program to offer knowledge, guidance, and tools to producers

The last several years have led to the lowest Jan. 1 cattle inventory since 1952. When the drought breaks those cattle producers who have been able to retain their cow numbers need to be at the fore-front of providing quality replacement females.

A new program developed by K-State Research and Extension and the Kansas Department of Agriculture should help Kansas producers be at the front of the cow herd re-population effort. This program is called Sunflower Supreme and is a heifer improvement and management program for southeast Kansas producers.

The intent of the Sunflower Supreme program is to provide knowledge, guidance and tools to assist beef producers in improved reproductive performance of replacement heifers and in turn increase cow longevity within a herd. The improvements will occur as a result of the adoption of effective health protocols and successfully utilizing available technologies and genetic tools. Focus will primarily be on decreasing dystocia issues, a whole herd health program, and breeding techniques for success.

There are several ways to help manage for dystocia concerns; with the most reliable being utilization of expected progeny differences. Two very valuable EPDs to manage dystocia concerns in first calf heifers are calving ease and birth weight. All breed associations report BW and several report CE as well. Calving ease is a better indicator of dystocia concerns in first calf heifers because it indicates the influence of the sire on calving ease in purebred females calving at 2 years of age. This EPD is reported as a percentage, therefore producers should select sires with a higher CE value as it should indicate a higher percentage of unassisted calving. Calving ease combines multiple measured traits of a bull’s progeny, including birth weight and gestation length, to provide an easy to understand EPD to further improve dystocia concerns.

From a herd health objective, the Sunflower Supreme program is designed to improve relationships with veterinarians to identify a whole herd health management program. The program focuses on respiratory and reproductive health. The vaccination guidelines involved in the program can be adapted to any operation with guidance from their veterinarian about type and booster requirements of each vaccine.

Additionally, this program will require all producers to receive Beef Quality Assurance training at/or around enrollment time. This training will help producers understand and implement correct management techniques. This will help to guide producers into initiating correct welfare programs and can open up additional marketing opportunities.

Discussions on breeding techniques are a large portion of this program where producers have the option of breeding heifers by A.I. or natural service. This program encourages a 60-day breeding season, which can help producers by providing heifers that can reach puberty and breed in a shorter window. Heifers that breed earlier in life have a more productive lifetime and greater profitability. In addition to choosing a breeding strategy, and synchronization protocol, this program hopes to help producers improve reproductive success by evaluating heifers prior to breeding. Specifically, heifers are required to have a breeding soundness exam completed 45 to 30 days prior to breeding. For bulls, it is encouraged to have a veterinarian complete a breeding soundness exam as well. At the pre-breeding exam, heifers should be weighed, body condition scored, evaluated for reproductive tract status, and correct size and shape of the pelvis.

This will be a great educational tool for producers and all the guidelines can be adopted in any operation raising replacement females. With expanded collaboration between producers, Extension, and local veterinarians, this program will add value and additional revenue to southeast Kansas cowherds and provide quality replacement heifers to increase the demand for Kansas cattle.

Producers interested in participating in the program should contact their Extension agent or visit for additional information.

The first annual special sale for Sunflower Supreme Heifers will be held in fall 2013/winter 2014, with the location to be determined. Spring-calving heifers will be highlighted in this first sale.

The second annual special sale for fall-calving Sunflower Supreme Heifers will be in spring 2015, with the location to be determined.

Date: 10/21/2013


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