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Senior Contributor

A Cattle Buyer Once Told Me….

A cattle buyer once told me that he thought heifers did better than steers. I thought the statement was ridiculous, and I was too busy rolling my eyes to ask for an explanation of what he meant. I have since wondered if he was right.


For about two years Dad has been collecting performance data on the feeders that we have purchased and fed out. The heifers have routinely equalled or outperformed the steers in gain and grade quality. I think this is likely due to the quality difference in what we are sourcing.


Here in North Texas, steers usually cost between 10-20 cwt more than heifers. I have a hard time paying that much of a premium for steers, so we usually end up with heifers. Last year, when we purchased feeders, our typical load would consist of about 75% heifers with the remaining 25% split between cutter bulls and steers that had been purchased with no more than 5 cwt premium on the heifers. In most cases, the heifers had better genetics than the steers.


While our performance data fails to offer an equal quality comparison, it has made Dad and I wonder if heifers are frequently the better buy.


Dad recently pointed out that when the finished steers and heifers are sold for slaughter the price per pound is usually the same.


Dad’s comment brought the buyer’s comment back to my mind and got me thinking about circumstances when heifers would be a better choice. Since I did not ask the buyer what he was basing his statement on, I have thought of a few instances where his statement could prove true:


    1. While a comparison of steers and heifers of equal quality should show the steers outperforming the heifers, how much per pound is the increased performance worth?


    2. Could the heifers’ higher levels of estrogen and lower levels of testosterone result in enough increased fat content to improve the marbling of the meat and result in a higher grade?


    3. Since the heifers’ frame size usually finishes smaller than the steers, would the reduced risk of getting docked for an overweight animal at slaughter make heifers a smarter choice?


I think the biggest downside to heifers is the pregnancy risk. When you buy steers (or cutter bulls) what you see is what you get, but when you buy heifers, there is always the chance of ending up with a “package deal.”


So, does the lower purchase price, increased fat content, and lower risk of an oversize frame, outweigh the pregnancy risk and lower feed efficiency to make heifer more profitable, or are steers still the way to go?