If you spend much time around the cattle, chances are that you have heard the term “breeding season” tossed around. So what exactly is a breeding season, and should you have one for your herd?
The University of Florida IFAS Extension said that controlled breeding in beef cattle production is defined as developing specific predetermined strategies on when to begin and end a breeding season.
The length of a controlled breeding season varies depending on factors such as the marketing objective, size of the operation, and personal preference. Some controlled breeding seasons last only a few weeks, whereas others last several months.
A controlled breeding season will help the producer time a calving season to suit their regional and economical needs on their farm or ranch.
The season or time of the year that calves are born influences the calf crop percentage and should be dictated by the available forage supply, labor and market for the calves.
Cows that calve about 30 to 60 days before the most abundant grass production will usually wean more calves annually than cows that calve during other seasons.
Properly timing a breeding season will allow you to manage the health of your herd much better than if you left your bull in year round and had spotty calving dates.
When you know the timeframe of calving, you can better monitor your herd for any birthing issues, as well as keep records of what cows did not take by the end of the breeding period and make appropriate choices to keep or cull cows for next year.
Other breeding season advantages, according beef cattle production experts, fall into the monetary category.
For example, “the calf crop will be more uniform in weight and age for marketing” and “application of management and labor can be concentrated” which in turn concentrates your costs and helps you plan for and spend each dollar purposefully, and track your income from the calf crop.
Having a controlled breeding season means removing the bulls from the herd after your preferred breeding date, so some additional facilities are required if you are moving to utilizing a breeding season. Bulls require sturdy fencing to keep them from escaping and re-joining the cows; some producers also opt for purchasing or leasing acreage to keep bulls elsewhere off the farm until they are needed again the next season.
Part of preparing for a breeding season is getting heifers and cows into good shape, and utilizing a breeding season can aid you in adjusting herd nutrition to the physiological needs of all the cows and heifers at once.
Drovers Cattle Network recommends to “breed heifers for 45 days and then check them for pregnancy at 60 to 90 days. Cull open heifers. Feed heifers to gain about a pound per day until calving. Some producers underfeed pregnant heifers in an attempt to reduce calf birth weights. But, underfed, thin heifers experience more calving problems, poor milk production, weak calves and failure to breed back.”
According to the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, Okla., there is a significant problem of feedlot heifers that calve out on feed. This situation can be deterred, by a controlled breeding system.
Information from the foundation states that by having all calves born and consequently weaned at a set time, the chance of a heifer being bred while still with the cow herd will be all but eliminated completely.
The National Research Council reports that a pregnant heifer has a 35 percent higher nutritional requirement than does an open heifer. Therefore, it stands to reason that bred heifers in a pen of feeder heifers would gain at a lower rate and at a decreased efficiency of gain.
Some producers opt out of a controlled breeding season due to concerns about housing and feeding idle bulls for up to 10 months out of the year.
The Noble Foundation states that producers can easily alleviate the concern by incorporate a small “bull trap” in pastures, which can be constructed of a two or three wire electric fence. If the majority if the females are bred, the bull should be fairy easy to contain.
Another reason why some producers opt not to practice a season breeding is the fear of lost income if they hold an open cow to fit into the cycle.
The foundation says that several studies have shown that the cow that calves out of sequence will rarely produce a calf that is heavy enough to cover the cost of owning that cow.
The move to a controlled breeding season should not be a drastic, one-year decision where a large number of out-of-synch cows are sold. The change can be made gradually over a two to three year period by gradually shortening the breeding season by two or three weeks a year.
While it does take a little more advanced planning, developing a breeding season for your herd will help streamline your operation and lead to better organization and a healthier herd, which in turn will aid in improving your bottom line on the farm each calving season.

Food for thought…

Specialists who recommend controlled breeding seasons note that benefits include the ability to better manage cow nutrition, cow and calf health, cow culling, weaning programs and marketing of calves and cull cows. With a continuous calving system, a herd always consists of cows in different stages of lactation and/or gestation with attendant varying nutritional requirements. Thus, with uncontrolled calving, if the herd is fed to meet the needs of the lactating cow(s), the average cow may be overfed, resulting in feed costs that are higher than is necessary or, alternatively, if nutrition is not balanced, the lactating cow is malnourished leading eventually to lesser beef production. Similarly, the potential of seasonal income averaging and cash flow benefits of a continuous calving system may be more than offset by failure to capture price premiums for consistent, larger batches of calves that may be sold if the calving season is controlled and calves are sold once per year.


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