Simple performance records for beef cattle
Most beef cattle breeders could name their best producing cows. These cows usually rear a good calf every year. But knowing which cows are not capable of rearing a good enough calf every year to hold their place in the herd is equally important for profitable beef production.
Immediate gains can be made by identifying and culling cows which are poor producers. Long-term herd improvement requires selection of the best performing heifers from the heifer calf drop to be used as replacement breeders, and the selection and use of genetically better bulls.
If the best heifers are kept each year, future culling of cows in the herd should only be needed when cows fail to get in calf, suffer disease or injury, or become too old. Few cows will need to be culled because of poor milking ability, because milking ability is quite consistent from one year to the next.
The most important single measure when choosing replacement heifers is the performance of their first calves to weaning, since calf growth to weaning is a reflection of the milking and mothering ability of the dam. The milking ability of mature cows is also measured by the growth of their calves.
Accurate performance records, whether they are simple entries in a notebook or part of a computerised system, can be useful aids to selection of breeding stock.
The National Beef Recording Scheme has developed BREEDPLAN which provides information on the genetic merit of animals for growth, fertility and carcase traits which are reported as Estimated Breeding Values (EBVs). BREEDPLAN EBVs can be used to compare animals within a herd while GROUP BREEDPLAN EBVs are used to compare animals from different herds within a breed. EBVs help make the choice of which bulls, heifers and cows to keep much easier and more accurate. However the EBVs need to be generated by BREEDPLAN.
Only characteristics of real economic importance to commercial cattle producers should be measured and recorded. However, detailed performance recording programs are too difficult to apply in some situations and are often impractical in very small herds.
Fortunately, there are simple performance recording programs which need a minimum of record-keeping and handling of stock. While slightly less accurate than full performance recording, these systems give an excellent guide to which cows and heifers to keep in the herd.
Pre-requisites for simple performance recording are:
- a restricted calving period; 9 to 10 weeks for cows and preferably 6 to 8 weeks for heifers
- run heifers, young cows and mature cows in separate mobs
- similar conditions of feeding and management for each group to be compared
- adequate yards and facilities
- cattle weighing scales (depending on the performance recording system used)
- permanent identification of all breeding stock is essential.
The following are two simple performance recording schemes.
Where scales are not available
During calving, tag all calves with a coloured ear tag. Sheep eartags are inexpensive and quite satisfactory. Use a different coloured tag every two to three weeks to group the calves into approximate age groups. Bull and heifer calves can be tagged in opposite ears if desired. At weaning, separate the calves into dam age (heifers, mature cows), sex (bull, steer, heifer) and calf age (ear tag colour) groups. Some of the heifers' calves groups may be small but you should pick a similar proportion of replacement heifers from each group. Select out, by eye, the heifer calves in each group which have grown the most, until the desired number of replacements remain.
Do the same for the steer calves if you wish to grow them on to yearling age or older, and for selecting potential herd sires from the bull calves (if appropriate). It only remains to identify the dams of the poor calves. Do this by bringing the calves back with the cows and observing how they "mother-up". A good way to mother-up calves is to separate them from the cows for about 12 hours, say overnight. The calves will quickly run back to their own mothers when they are let back the next day. Cull the dams of the poor calves. This performance recording system needs a minimum of record-keeping, yet it makes allowances for age and sex when comparing calves for growth.
Where scales are available
The use of scales improves the accuracy of selection. The scales allow animals to be compared on their actual weight gain from marking to weaning. Scales are a very useful management aid on any beef property. A major advantage of this system is that there is no need to record birth date, which may be difficult in many large herds. Cattle need only be handled at marking and weaning. This fits in very well with normal herd management. At marking when the calves are two to three months old, weigh and eartag all calves.
Numbered eartags must be used because calves need to be individually identified. Record tag number, sex and weight. Weigh the calves again at weaning. To identify the best-growing calves, simply subtract the weights at marking from the weaning weights. The calves which make the poorest weight gain from marking to weaning can then be mothered up and the cows marked as culls. The weaning weight figures for steer and heifer calves can be adjusted up to a bull equivalent by adding an extra 5% and 10% respectively to their weight, provided the calves are about 200 days (seven months) old.
Another system that allows a systematic approach to selection of replacement heifers requires that you carry most of the heifer calves past weaning and cull along the way. Selection pressure can be placed on heifers on their ability to get in calf early, to deliver a live calf unassisted, to rear the calf well to weaning and to continually get back in calf.
- At weaning cull heifers lightly for obvious conformation faults. It is important to keep at least 50% more heifers than will ultimately be required as replacements.
- Join heifers for 6 weeks, ideally to low birthweight EBV bulls or yearling bulls born within the herd. Joined heifers are then run as one mob until weaning of their first calf.
- Eight to 10 weeks after joining pregnancy test heifers and cull empties.
- Cull any heifer that requires assistance at calving.
- At marking (when oldest calves are 12 weeks of age), ear tag all calves with consecutively numbered tags. Weigh each calf and record tag number, sex and weight. Join heifers as per the normal breeding program.
- Around 8 weeks after the bulls come out, or at least at weaning, pregnancy test heifers and cull empties. Weigh calves. Subtract marking weight from weaning weight to calculate gain.
Select poorest gaining calves from within each sex group of calves. The percentage of calves selected will depend on the actual number of replacement breeders required. Mother up selected (cull) calves and sell both heifer and calf as culls. The remaining heifers then go into the main breeding herd.
Calculating a 200 day weight ratio around 200 days
To measure the milking and mothering ability of cows it is best to weigh the calves when the average age is around 200 days. Only those calves born within a three month period or less should be compared and a minimum of 10 calves per group is necessary for meaningful comparisons. Explanation of records (refer to example in Performance Record sheet):
- Column 1. Record calf number and sex: eg tag no. 13, S (steer)
- Column 2. Record dam number and age: eg tag no. 51, 4-year-old
- Column 3. Record birth date (9/3/91)
- Column 4. Record birth weight or if unknown use average for the breed (32 kgs)
- Column 5. Calculate age of calf between birth and 200 day weighing date (210 days)
- Column 6. Record actual weight (230 kgs)
- Column 7. Gain from birth is the actual weight minus the birth weight (actual or average) (230 - 32 = 198 kgs)
- Column 8. Daily gain is the gain from birth divided by the age of the calf (198 210 = 0.94 kgs/day).
- Column 9. Adjusted weight is calculated by multiplying the daily gain by 200 (.94 x 200 = 188 kgs)
- Column 10. Add birth weight to column 9 (188 + 32 = 220 kgs)
- Column 11. Sex correction factors are: 10% for heifer calves, 5% for steer calves, 0% for bull calves.
- Column 12. Age of dam correction factors are: 15% for calves out of 2 year old heifers, 10% for calves out of 3 year old cows, 5% for calves out of 4 year old cows and 0% for calves out of 5 year old cows and older.
- Column 13. Fully adjusted 200 day weight after adding age and sex corrections (5% of 220 = 11 kgs for sex correction + 5% of 220 kgs = 11 kgs for age of dam, ie add 22 kg to age adjusted weight)
- Column 14. To calculate fully adjusted daily weight gain take birth weight from 200 day weight and divide by 200. (242 - 32 = 210 kg 200 days = 1.06 kg/day)
- Column 15. The 200 day weight ratio is calculated by dividing the adjusted daily gain by the average adjusted daily gain for the group and multiplying by 100
- Column 16. Rank each animal in the management group according to their 200 day weight ratio.
Performance Record Sheet
Birth data Weaning Data on 8/10/91
Gain from birth
to 200 days
Sex Corr Factor
Age of dam corr factor
Fully Adj 200 Day Wt
Wt gain (ADG)
200D Wt Ratio
Phil Franklin, Ballarat