Good nutrition and proper health care will help younger females become productive cows down the road

Successful reproduction in the cow herd is every producer’s goal. Females that are unsuccessful with breeding and calving are typically culled, as they are a drain on resources when they don’t fit the operation’s needs. There are, however, steps that can be taken to boost the overall success of the herd and improve cow reproduction – especially for the young ones.

Improving young cow reproduction requires forethought and planning on the part of the producer, since it starts before she’s even had her first calf. In order to thrive and be an asset to the farm or ranch, first-calf heifers need to be fed and managed separately from mature cows.

“Lactating female beef cattle use nutrients for multiple purposes: 1) meet maintenance requirements; 2) produce milk to support a calf; 3) prepare for the next breeding season; and 4) if needed, continue growing,” Dr. Eric Bailey, University of Missouri Extension State Beef Specialist, explained. “First-calf heifers are the only females that will do number four. They need to be managed separately, if 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 85-90 percent of their mature size. They are still growing.”

There has always been some concern among producers that feeding a first-calf heifer too much in her final trimester will cause her calf to grow too large and create problems during delivery. Due to a heifer’s still growing body, however, this is rarely the case.

Bailey advised producers to keep food in front of first-calf heifers for both calving and rebreeding success.

Post calving, young cows need to receive proper nutrition so that their Body Condition Score (BCS) is adequate for rebreeding.

“Females that give birth in good body condition are less likely to have trouble with pregnancy toxemia and rebreeding,” Dr. David Fernandez, Cooperative Extension Program livestock specialist at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, said. “They typically produce more milk and give birth to healthier, faster-growing offspring.”

Once a producer has met the nutritional needs of their young cows, they must also consider their health program because a healthy cows rebreed better.

“A good herd health program is invaluable,” Dr. Ryon Walker, livestock consultant at Noble Research Institute, said. “It helps prevent certain diseases, such as blackleg, pink eye and respiratory diseases, as well as some diseases that can cause reproductive failure at different stages of pregnancy.”

Producers should consult their veterinarian to create a vaccination and parasite prevention program that fits their needs; BVD (bovine viral diarrhea), IBR (Infectious bovine rhinotracheitis), blackleg and brucellosis are commonly vaccinated for. Deworming and providing minerals are also sound herd health practices to keep young cows in top shape. A veterinarian can assist in determining what brand of dewormer to use and how often it should be administered.

A young cow’s overall environment will also play a role in her reproductive success. Minimizing stress and bullying from older cows, providing good shade and shelter, and access to plenty of fresh water will keep her calm, comfortable and focused on the task at hand.

Finally, don’t forget about the bull. Young cows are only part of the successful reproduction equation and they cannot perform if the bull isn’t holding up his end of the deal. Producers should make sure their bull is well fed, free of lameness and healthy. Trich testing the bull before turning him in with young cows (and mature cows too) will help reproductive success. While most cows will recover from trich on their own, the venereal disease causes infertility, low pregnancy rates, extended calving seasons, diminished calf crops and sometimes abortions. Infected bulls are infected for life, and Extension and veterinary professionals highly recommend producers test their bulls to ensure reproductive success of the herd and to avoid breeding setbacks with young cows.

Good nutrition, health programs and herd management will ensure a producer’s young cows are productive and profitable for years to come.


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