The Sunday News
I HAVE been scouting the market for three months now looking for decent size and priced heifers, what a frustration it is. Your first frustration is that farmers want to sell you weaners and pass them for either yearlings or pre bulling heifers.
The second frustration is that heifers are over priced for both their size and in some cases even for their breed. It is a difficult time for a buyer but I suppose a smiling time for the farmer. What became very apparent to me during the heifer scouting foray, was that as a buyer you need to be aware of the various growth stages of a heifer so that you describe exactly the size you want and you make sure the farmer is selling you the right size you want.
Therefore, it is important for me to enlighten some of my readers who may not be aware that, regarding growth stages which also become marketing stages, you need to know that there are weaners, which are basically grownup calves which have just been weaned from their mothers. These are nothing other than glorified calves which are simply transitioning from the calf stage to another growth stage.
Then you have long weaners, which are still weaners but they took long to be weaned. Generally, calves are weaned around six to seven months of age, hence long weaners take longer than that. These could be nine to 11 months old calves which naturally will be bigger in frame size and weight than your normal weaners.
Then you have what are called yearlings which refers to heifers that are a year old and this can be stretched to one year four months. After this you get your pre bulling heifers, a category which many farmers skip but it refers to that stage when the heifers are not yet at the bulling stage but are older than the yearling stage.
The pre bulling stage is usually kept silent by most farmers because in terms of physical appearance, a pre bulling heifer and a bulling heifer which is our next and final stage, tend to be the same. The difference between the pre bulling heifer and the bulling heifer is that the latter is now physiologically ready for reproduction while the former is still not mature enough for that.
Finally, you have bulling heifers which is what most buyers would be looking for, because they want to go into production. These are usually heifers which are two years old going up and are ready to take the bull. There are some heifers depending on breeds which can take a bull even earlier than two years of age.
Technically a bulling heifer should be able to go into breeding within a year of purchasing it, however, experience has shown that you can buy what you think is a bulling heifer and you baby sit it for another three years before it drops a calf. Admittedly factors could be many but the main reason is that both buyers and sellers conflate the pre bulling stage and the bulling stage.
In some cases, yearlings are passed as bulling heifers especially for the fast-growing breeds which will provide a fooling visual appraisal. It is important to seek for the birth records of the heifers you are buying so that you know what growth stage they are and you pay for the correct specifications.
This will obviously not be easy because not many of our farmers capture birth records of their animals but suffices to say if you purchase the heifer based only on visual appraisal, that it looks big enough, be ready to keep it for another two if not three long years before it goes into breeding.
An interesting observation though regarding my escapades searching for heifers, was that, they are priced to kill. Farmers want to sell you weaners for US$400 and the price for heifers goes up to US$1000. I am not talking about pedigree heifers but your ordinary commercial herd heifers. They are asking for two legs and arm. Good for the seller, bad news for the buyer.
While from an animal production point of view we have always considered male cows as your cash flow, I am getting convinced that it is actually the female ones that are a better reliable cash flow.
Heifers will maintain their price throughout the year and hence you are not under pressure to sell at only a particular time of the year to catch the peak price season. Also, if you could not sell for one reason or another, your bulling heifers will go into breeding and give you more, something your steers cannot do!
Therefore, for those farmers with significant herd sizes, it is my well-considered counsel that start considering heifers as your stable cash flow sources for that planned sell and perhaps reverse your steers for the narrow peak price season and urgent butchery sells that do not bring that much!
Uyabonga umntakaMaKhumalo. Feedback [email protected]/ cell 0772851275