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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Replacement heifers: Should I breed or buy?

Sourcing replacement heifers: Should I breed or buy?

Several advantages and disadvantages arise from breeding replacement heifers from within your herd and sourcing replacement stock from outside your herd.

Tommy Cox, Teagasc, believes that the pros of sourcing heifers internally outweigh the advantages of outsourcing breeding females; however, he acknowledges that this is not always feasible for every farm.

During a suckler breeding webinar that Teagasc Mayo organised, he outlined the advantages and disadvantages of both policies.

What are the requirements of a good suckler cow?

According to Cox, farmers should focus on:

  • Fertility;
  • Physically sound;
  • Conformation;
  • Good milk yield;
  • Docile;
  • 2-year calving;
  • Replacement index.

Breeding from within the herd:


  • Know exactly the breeding of the cow;
  • Select traits you are seeking;
  • Retaining the best: “Breed the best from the best”
  • Reduced disease risk – A closed herd policy.


  • Slower progress if you have a low cow base.

What cows should you breed replacements from?

    • Fertile – calves early and every year;
    • Produce a quality calf that commands several customers;
    • Calves unassisted – E.g. no C-section;
    • Maintains condition easily;
    • Temperament – Docile and easy to handle;
    • High weanling efficiency – Weans a good, heavy calf – Utilise BEEP data to analyse herd performance;
    • Retain females from your top-performing cow – See ICBF annual reports.

Outsourcing replacement heifers 


  • Bring more milk into the herd;
  • Fewer heifers to manage at calving;
  • Source replacements from top-quality stock.


  • Do not know the breeding of the replacement;
  • Higher disease risk;
  • Do not know the history of farm.

When sourcing from outside the herd, he advises the following:

    • Focus on farms that you know have a good track record;
    • Select animals that are visually correct – Good pelvic confirmation, well-formed udder with four teats and appears to be docile;
    • Teagasc recommends that replacements should have a high replacement value (4 and 5-stars);
    • Genotyped;
    • Increased biosecurity measures required – You may need to construct a herd health plan with your vet that incorporates a vaccine policy to prevent any disease outbreak occurring on farm.

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