There are many benefits to a defined breeding season.
The calves are more uniform, which can bring a better price in the market. The producer can plan for the year and bring in help when the cows are expected to calve, and again when it’s time to work the calves, to make the process more efficient. And the producer can more easily identify and cull those cows that are slow to breed back.
Although most ranchers in this region do not have a defined breeding season and run the bulls with the cows year-round, many of them aspire to a shortened season.
“For them, usually it’s a stepwise process,” Dr. Robert Wells, livestock consultant with the Samuel R. Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla., told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor. “It might be starting with just a 120-day breeding season and developing two herds, a spring and a fall herd, if you can handle the logistics of keeping those animals separate.”
More aggressive producers may attempt to move to a 90-day season right away, but Wells said even 90 days is not a shortened season, based on the math. “Ninety days, plus 285-day gestation puts you over the one year interval that we want to keep our cows on,” he said.
“I define a shortened breeding season as anything less than 75 days.”
And how short can you go?
“I tell people that I probably wouldn’t want to go less than 45 days,” Wells said. “Forty-five days allows the latest calving cow to only have two cycles to get bred in, and we know the first cycle typically is not as productive as a heat cycle as are the second and subsequent cycles.”
University of Missouri Extension Regional Livestock Specialist Eldon Cole estimates fewer than 25 percent of the producers in his area adhere to a strict breeding season.
“A lot of them may leave those bulls out a little longer, maybe upwards of 120 days, and only get them in right before they think they’ll start breeding their daughters,” Cole told OFN.
“If that bull stays out there all the time, pregnant daughters are one of the things that can get us in trouble. Feedlots do not like to get a set of feeder heifers that are bred.”
While citing the benefit from a shortened season of finding cows that are slow to breed back, Cole said it can be overdone.
“Maybe they’re calving late in the season and if you limit it too much, they won’t breed back in time,” he said. “So you have to cull them, and if you’re culling too many that can be a real loss in revenue for you.”
The exception, he said, is if you’ve got strung-out cows you’re already planning to take to town; moving right into a much shorter season will help you move those cows out of the program quickly.
A defined season also produces calves that are more uniform in size and age.
“We know that numbers improve the bid activity on your feeder calves,” Cole said. “Buyers like to buy large numbers and when you go to go to some of the Western states where herd sizes are much larger, a potload is the minimum size. We don’t have too many of those in this area, but we do have some; it’s nice to be able to market that many, and I think it will pay off in the final go-round if you have larger numbers in your group.”
“If you identify females that are open, go ahead and put a bull back in on them. Allow them to get rebred, but you have to be disciplined enough to say, ‘“She doesn’t fit my calving season, so I’m going to sell her and not be tempted to keep her back in the herd.’ If you don’t do that, ultimately you’re going to destroy all the work you’ve done in the past,” Wells added. “Now you’re able to sell a bred cow to somebody else into whose breeding system she may fit better, and she will bring more than what she would sell for as a salvage cow being sold on a pound basis.”


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