Steps to achieve optimal reproductive performance in a cow herd

A heifer or cow’s overall reproductive success hinges on many factors that weave together to equip each individual female with the best chances for conception and ease of calving. From nutrition to genetics, it takes a multifaceted approach to improve cow herd conception rates. 

First and foremost, proper nutrition rises to the top as one of the most important factors in guaranteeing timely conception. “The biggest impact on conception rate in beef cows is the body condition of the cows going into calving season,” David Hoffman, Field Specialist in Livestock, with the University of Missouri Extension, said. “So, if we can keep our cows in an average body condition of five or better, we are going to improve the overall reproductive performance of our cow herd.”

Another benefit to good body condition is shorter postpartum intervals. The time from when cows calve, to the time they start cycling, is reduced in cows that are in adequate body condition. 

Cattle with a body condition score of 5 or better will breed back sooner than cows that are too thin. 

“We know cows that are thin are not going to come into heat or start cycling as quick, which is going to delay their conception,” Hoffman explained. The thinner a heifer or cow is, the longer that postpartum becomes. 

Maintaining overall herd health enhances fertility. This includes a management practice that incorporates regular vaccinations for the herd. For females, it’s particularly important to vaccinate for diseases that impact reproduction loss. Producers who work their cattle calmly and make efforts to reduce stress to their animals, will also improve conception rates in their cow herd. 

Livestock specialists state natural cover and AI can have equal success as long as good management procedures are in place. “They can both have acceptable conception rates if everything is done accordingly,” Hoffman said.  “I have had producers that have had an 85 percent first-service conception rate with an AI program, but they pay a lot of attention to detail.”

Details are important with the cow herd and also with bull selection and management. If producers choose to use a herd bull, the body condition of that bull is critical as well. Livestock experts recommend bulls get a breeding soundness exam prior to being turned out with the cow herd. 

Another successful strategy includes creating a proper bull to cow ratio. Too many cows and too few bulls will not create ideal results. “We need to make that appropriate ratio so that those bulls can cover as many cows as they can and do their job as well,” Hoffman explained.

Other action to take includes monitoring the herd to see how the cattle are behaving in the pasture. Farmers may need to make some management changes if they notice behavior that fails to improve conceptions rates. 

For example, if cattle are in a large pasture and tend to split into several different groups, the herd bull may only be hanging out with one set of cows. Therefore, the bull may not be covering some of the cows. At that point, producers will have to make some management decisions to ensure all the cows are being serviced. 

Last but not least, genetics of the females, herd bulls or AI sires have a significant impact on reproductive success and fertility. Producers who research and know as much as possible about the history and genetic profiles of their animals the better equipped they will be to make decisions that improve their herd’s reproductive performance. 

Livestock specialists state that for the most part, conception rates in herds increase or decrease depending on an operation’s management practices. The more producers pay attention to herd management details, the better the herd’s reproductive track record. 


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