Sunflower Supreme HeiferProgram Initially Available in SE Kansas,Statewide Rollout to Come
PARSONS - A new program aimed at supporting beef cattle producers by improving thereproductive performance of replacement heifers may have come at an opportunetime.
The Sunflower Supreme program, developed by KansasStateUniversity and the KansasDepartment of Agriculture, addresses dystocia or calving difficulties inheifers, as well as whole herd health and successful breeding techniques.
This may be an especially good year to launch this program, saidJaymelynn Farney, animal science specialist with K-State Research andExtension. Recent drought conditions and related market forces pushed thenumber of cattle in U.S. herds to 90.8 million head as of Jan. 1, 2013 - thelowest level since 1952, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, butthere are signals some producers are beginning to expand their herds.
"At this point we are starting (the program) in southeast Kansas, but hope to makeit a state-wide program by next fall," said Farney, who is based in Parsons."As part of this program, producers adopt effective health protocols and usesome of the latest technologies and genetic tools with the end goal ofimproving herd health."
Ways to manage for dystocia concerns include using expectedprogeny differences (EPDs), a way of evaluating an animal's genetic worth. Twovaluable EPDs to use with first calf heifers are calving ease and birth weight.
"All breed associations report birth weight and several reportcalving ease," Farney said. "Calving ease is a better indicator of dystociaconcerns in first calf heifers because it indicates the influence of the sireon calving ease in purebred females calving at two years of age."
Calving ease (CE) is reported as a percentage, so producers shouldselect sires with a higher calving ease value which should indicate a higherpercentage of unassisted calving. Calving ease combines multiple measuredtraits of a bull's progeny, including birth weight and gestation length, toprovide an easy-to-understand EPD to further improve dystocia concerns.
For some producers, being involved in the program will mean morerecordkeeping, but they will be surprised how beneficial that can be, Farneysaid.
Meetings on heifer health, breeding success, nutrition, geneticevaluation, and marketing are planned for those who enroll. A quarterlynewsletter and videos will provide practical, day-to-day management tips.
The Sunflower Supreme program also aims to improve relationshipsbetween producers and veterinarians to identify a whole herd health managementprogram, she said, with a focus on respiratory and reproductive health.Vaccination guidelines that are part of the program can be adapted to anyoperation with guidance from a veterinarian about type and booster requirementsof each vaccine.
The program requires participants to receive Beef QualityAssurance (BQA) training, which encourages correct management techniques,Farney said. This also helps guide producers as they start livestock welfareprograms and can open marketing opportunities.
Heifers that breed earlier in life have a more productive lifetimeand greater profitability, Farney said. By choosing a breeding strategy andsynchronization protocol, the program aims to help producers improvereproductive success. To that end, a breeding soundness exam must be completed45 days prior to breeding to further evaluate heifers and provide enhancedreproductive success.
"We designed this program to be an educational tool forproducers," Farney said, adding that all of the guidelines can be adopted inany operation that raises replacement females. "With expanded collaborationbetween producers, extension, and local veterinarians, this program will addvalue and additional revenue to Kansascowherds and provide quality replacement heifers to increase the demand for Kansas cattle."
Producers interested in participating in the program shouldcontact their county or district K-State Research and Extension agent or visit www.SunflowerSupreme.org for additionalinformation.