Spring is here (or maybe multiple springs from all the rain many of us have had) and you have your calf crop on the ground and are thinking maybe you should be going over the farm equipment before hay season starts. Something else you should be thinking about is getting ready for breeding season so that you have a new calf crop for next year. Some planning now on your part can go a long way to making next year’s calf crop successful.
The first thing I like to consider is the body condition of the cow herd. Thin cows do not get bred on time, so make sure the cows are in good body condition. Fortunately, there is a lot of fresh growing grass right now, and that makes the cost of feeding a little more reasonable. But if your cows came out of winter a little rough and thin, some form of supplemental energy will be necessary to put some weight on those cows and get the cows to cycle on a regular basis. Talk with your nutritionist to devise a plan that will fit your needs.
The next decision is whether you plan to use artificial insemination as all or part of your breeding program. The reason you need to decide this early is that commonly people use some kind of synchronization program to breed groups of cows or heifers in order to narrow the calving season and conserve time and resources. There are multiple programs to synchronize heifers and cows. Most use combinations of prostaglandin, GnRH and progestins (such as MGA or CIDR’s) to group females to cycle in a short period of time. The number of variations in synch programs is sometimes confusing, and timing is critical for success of a synchronization program. Your veterinarian is the best source for determination of the best program for your needs; contact them now if you have questions. If you plan to inseminate cows or heifers, now is also the time to line up an AI technician if you don’t plan to breed the group yourself.
If you plan to use natural service rather than AI for your breeding program, bulls need a good checkup before breeding season. First and foremost is a full breeding soundness exam. Your veterinarian performs this testing; it should include semen collection and evaluation, visual evaluation of the penis and testicles for abnormalities, a general physical exam, examination of the bull’s feet for problems and body condition scoring. We recently completed our annual breeding soundness clinic at my office; approximately 10 percent of the bulls tested did not pass. The number one reason I see for poor semen quality is poor body condition. So like those cows, make sure your bulls are getting proper nutrition so they are in good enough shape for the rigors of breeding cows.
Prebreeding vaccinations are also important to control diseases that rob calves through decreased fertility and abortions. Common recommendations for vaccines include lepto, IBR, and BVD. Campylobacter (still referred to as Vibrio) should be used in herds where bulls are used. Vaccines should be administered two to four weeks prior to the start of breeding season. Don’t forget the bulls; they should be vaccinated as well as the cows and heifers.
A little planning can make next year’s calf crop the best it can be. Getting cows bred early in the calving season and having the shortest possible calving season will lead to a bigger payday when those calves are sold. With costs rising, it is even more important to plan ahead to maximize every dollar out of each and every cow.
Mike Bloss, DVM, owns Countryside Animal Clinic with his wife, Kristin Bloss, DVM, in Aurora, Mo.