Make plans now to be prepared this fall
Advanced planning can make the difference between a smooth, successful breeding season and a stressful, unsuccessful one. Livestock specialists recommend producers take steps now to make sure their herds are ready for the fall breeding season. “Attention to details allow for a more successful breeding season with cows getting bred earlier and becoming more productive females in the cow herd,” David Hoffman, field specialist in livestock with the University of Missouri Extension, said.
1 – Importance of Body Condition
This year as herds move into the fall, animals may be in poorer body condition than years past. The drought conditions depleted forage supplies causing many animals to have lower body conditions than in normal years. “Therefore, producers may need to supplement their cows in order to increase their nutritional plane and increase their weight gain and condition score,” Hoffman stated.
One of the most critical factors in preparing for an upcoming breeding season is making sure the heifer or cow’s body condition score (BCS) is in the normal range. Livestock specialists point to how research has repeatedly demonstrated that a cow’s BCS is correlated to her ability to initiate her estrous cycles after calving and becoming pregnant early in the breeding season. “Cows that are thin (a BCS less than five) take longer to come into heat and become pregnant, than cows that are an average BCS of a five or six,” Hoffman explained.
Additionally, experts recommend cows are at a minimum of 30 to 40 days post-calving to ensure proper uterine involution and initiation of estrous cycles.
2 – Pre-Breeding Season Practices
All health procedures, especially vaccinations, should be completed 30 to 45 days before the start of breeding season. Prior to breeding season, producers should work with their veterinarian to develop or refine their herd health program.
3 – Preparing for AI Program
Producers should start preparing now if they plan to implement an artificial insemination program in the coming months. This is the time to order semen, choose an estrous synchronization protocol if one is going to be used and to buy estrous synchronization drugs if needed.
In addition, producers need to hire an AI technician or schedule with their current technician. Another proactive step to take includes checking handling facilities to make sure they are safe and in working order.
4 – Preparing for Natural Cover Program
Before breeding season begins, evaluate herd bulls with a breeding soundness exam (BSE) to make sure they are physically capable to perform their duties. Environmental factors can also have an impact on breeding season. The terrain of breeding pastures can influence a cow’s behavior and the bull’s breeding ability. Hilly, rocky pastures make it more difficult for animals compared to flat, open fields.
When selecting herd sires, livestock specialists recommend consulting genetic evaluation tools. “Utilize EPDs and genomics when making your selections because choosing genetics for your operation is an important decision with long-term impacts on productivity and profitability,” Hoffman explained.
Determine how many bulls are needed for the operation. If the cows are consistently in more than one group, additional bulls may be needed to ensure proper coverage. How long the bulls are turned out with the cow herd depends on the goals of each producer. Keep in mind, the shorter the breeding season, the tighter the calving window.
The number of bulls required depends on several factors; the number of cows and heifers to be bred, the bull’s age and the bull’s condition. “Yearling bulls can typically breed 10 to 20 females, 2-year-old bulls can usually breed 20 to 30 females and mature bulls can cover 30 to 40 females; as long as they are not too thin or too fat,” Hoffman said.
5 – During Breeding Season Action
Producers will want to keep a close eye on their cow herd and bull during the breeding season to make sure the bull is performing his duties. Also, producers should monitor the bull for any signs of injury, lameness or eyesight problems. Keep a record of service dates on cows and check if there are any rebreeds occurring. If so, this may indicate a fertility concern with the bull and/or the cows.