Great Plains Heifer Development Program at Haskell Ag Lab

Amid historic lows in the nation's cowherd, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln  is looking to help beef producers optimize heifer development and reproductive efficiency. The Great Plains Heifer Development program at UNL Haskell Beef Lab near Concord, NE aims to give producers game-changing data about their replacement females years ahead of data tracking at home. 

Connor Biehler, beef extension educator at Nebraska, and Kiernan Brandt, professional service technician with Trans Ova Genetics and former extension educator with SDSU, have a shared vision of optimizing and enhancing reproductive efficiency and heifer development. 

The program is unique, as all the heifers are consigned by producers eager to enhance their heifer development strategies, offering a blend of services focused on the foundational principles of heifer selection, nutrition, management strategies, genetic tools for sire selection, estrus synchronization protocols, post breeding management, and more. This year 11 producers from across Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and South Dakota consigned 132 heifers to the program, creating natural variability of type and kind into the program. Ultimately, this variability allows the program to look at each individual herd to find what fits them best.   

By doing this Biehler and Brandt hope to identify strengths and shortcomings of the cow herd in the upper midwest to figure out applicable methods to improve cattle longevity, parity and decrease fallout of replacement heifers in every herd. The goal isn't to create a new "tool" but rather to help producers improve upon what they already have. 

"This is where the rubber meets the road for cattle producers, where we can address the real challenges producers encounter in optimizing heifer reproduction, making informed breeding decisions, and ensuring the longevity and productivity of their herds," Biehler said. "It's about making a direct, positive impact on the efficiency, productivity and profitability for Nebraska's cattle producers."

Genetic tools are advancing rapidly, and the Great Plains Heifer Development Program will serves as a platform for testing cutting-edge technologies, all while staying in alignment with Beef Improvement Federation genetic goals to ensure the heifers not only meet but advance industry standards. 

Goals include:

  • Educate consignors, producers, and allied industry partners to improve the resilience, flexiblity and increase knowledge, creating a network of producers who are well-informed about the status of their herds.
  • Bring producers together to share insights, and collectively elevate the efficiency and genetic prowess of their herds. 
  • Providing custom heifer development, freeing up producers' feed and time resources at home. 
  • Help producers adopt heifer development techniques suited to their individual herd that help increase efficiency and longevity in their cowherds. 
  • Manage heifers to reach target weights for best breeding success and longevity within a set timeframe.
  • Score heifers on disposition, performance, and reproductive traits, to give producers opportunities to learn more about effective evaluation. 

"This program is more than just a service; it's a transformative opportunity for producers," Brandt said. "We're not only streamlining the heifer development process, but also bringing in the latest technologies to empower producers with valuable data about their herds."

Beyond providing a service, the Great Plains Heifer Development Program seeks to create a robust learning opportunity. Producers are encouraged to actively engage, fostering open communication and knowledge sharing. Collaboration is invited, including contributions from producers who may want to provide high-accuracy sires or genetic input, as producer education is one of the main focal points of this program. 

"As we delve into this initiative, it's not just about providing a service; it's about creating a valuable learning community," said Rick Rasby, a professor with Nebraska's Animal Science Department. "We want producers to come together, share insights, and collectively elevate the efficiency and genetic prowess of their herds. This isn't just about increasing numbers; it's about improving the quality of the cowherd. It's about creating resilient, flexible, and knowledgeable producers who are well-informed about the status of their herds." 

 To learn more about heifer qualification guidelines, health requirements to consign and more, contact Biehler at 402-624-8007 or

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