Nutrition, herd health and genetics play a role in a successful breeding program

Every producer wants their breeding season to be successful because successful breeding makes or breaks the farm’s bottom line. There are multiple factors that go into a successful breeding program, but nutrition, cow health and genetics are typically a common theme.

Nutrition: It’s vital that cows receive the proper nutrition to maintain their body condition, increase fertility and calve successfully. Being mindful with the feeding program will go a long way toward a successful breeding season. First, check the cow’s Body Condition Score (BCS).

“The herd should be at or near a Body Condition Score of 5, where only a faint outline of the last couple of ribs is visible, or none at all,” Andy McCorkill, University of Missouri Extension field specialist in livestock, said.

“A producer’s pasture is one of the best (and most cost effective) tools for keeping the herd’s BCS where it needs to be so they are already in good condition for breeding season,” explained MU Extension State Beef Specialist Dr. Eric Bailey. By properly managing and utilizing pasture, producers need not rely heavily on purchased feed or hay to maintain their herd’s BCS.

“Anytime pasture forage is less than 4-inches tall (average across the whole pasture), forage intake will be restricted. Do not let the cows graze the pastures to the dirt before beginning to feed hay or moving to another pasture. That’s the best thing we can do to help keep BCS above the critical threshold,” Bailey advised. Knowing what is exactly is in the pasture can help with making sure cows keep up that ideal BCS.

“It’s important to know forage quality (whether grass pasture or hay) and know what type of supplement is appropriate. This is where a little investment in forage testing can pay big dividends,” Dr. Shane Gadberry, professor of ruminant nutrition at the University of Arkansas, said.

Another nutritional practice for a successful breeding season is to feed first-calf heifers separately from mature cows.

“Lactating female beef cattle use nutrients for multiple purposes: 1) To meet maintenance requirements; 2) To produce milk to support a calf; 3) To prepare for the next breeding season; and 4) I needed, continue growing,” Bailey explained. “First-calf heifers are the only females that will do number four. They need to be managed separately, if at all possible, and fed generously. This is the reason why, typically, conception rates are lower in second-calf cows than any other breeding female. Most beef heifers calve at 85 to 90 percent of their mature size. They are still growing.”

He strongly recommends that producers not restrict feed in the final trimester; there is sometimes concern that feeding first-calf heifers too much will create excessively large calves.

“You are only setting the first-calf heifer up for future breeding problems by restricting feed during the last trimester before calving,” Bailey said.

When planning a feeding program that will improve fertility, be mindful of meeting energy requirements. Many producers focus on protein and while protein is certainly important.

“Energy is commonly the most limiting nutrient in our system,” Bailey said. “Poor quality hay might be deficient in protein, but when providing supplements, think about getting additional energy to cows. Supplement decisions should be based on economics, rather than avoiding excessive protein. If you are set up to handle meal feeds on your farm, distillers grains contain 30 percent crude protein, yet has a similar amount of energy to corn. If I could buy distillers grains at a discount relative to corn, I would use distillers grains as my supplement to beef cows.”

Cow Health: Healthy cows have a higher breeding season success rate, so having a herd health program is a must.

“Work with a qualified veterinarian on developing a vaccination plan for your operation that covers the bases,” McCorkill advised. “The vaccination schedule should include annual boosters of most of the common viral and bacterial infections such as IBR, BVD, PI3, BRSV, Vibriosis, Leptospirosis, and blackleg for both cows and bulls.”

Producers should be proactive for parasite issues as well. BCS can also offer clues to potential parasite issues.

“If cows are thin, they may also have a parasite burden. Avoid generic dewormers when treating cows for internal parasites,” Gadberry cautioned.

Genetics: Proper culling decisions will help producers develop sound genetics within their herd that lead to successful breeding seasons.

“The first strike in culling lies in the preg check. If a cow is open and should be bred, she’s not doing her job for you and should be considered for culling,” McCorkill said. “Each cow should calve roughly every 365 days, meaning she should calve roughly the same day every year. The next step is that she has to raise her calf to be acceptable to the marketplace. Age can play a role on a cow productivity so it should be taken into consideration. If she is still doing her job acceptably it isn’t the end of the line, but take into consideration none the less. Evaluate the cow herd for udder structure and cull those that are showing their age. It’s also a good time to consider the merit of those with attitude problems. A calf learns a lot from its mother, attitude included, so you might just be passing issues on to the next generation. Flighty calves also have a tendency to yield poorer quality carcasses and an increased sickness rate. Diligent culling will help keep the right cows in the herd over time. If you buy replacements, buy from a reputable supplier, that is known for fertility. Problem-free cows is what we want.”


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