Management strategies to improve conception rates in cattle herds
Though no one singular step will unequivocally guarantee better conception rates in cow herds, there are strategies producers can put in place to increase the chances their females get pregnant. Improved conception rates lead to more profitability.
Nutrition – Reproduction Connection
Though it may seem obvious, livestock extension specialists say there is no denying the connection between nutrition and reproduction. “A thin cow is going to take longer to breed or not breed at all, than a cow that is in average to better body condition,” Eric Bailey, Ph.D., state beef extension specialist with the University of Missouri, said. “And a cow that loses weight during that early post-calving period while she is trying to nurse a calf and get pregnant is also an animal that is likely to take longer to get pregnant and or not rebreed.”
Livestock extension specialists encourage producers to think about an animal’s body condition score (BCS) on a scale of one to nine. The number one on the scale represents a cow that is emaciated and nine on the scale represents a grossly overweight animal. The ideal BCS for a female to calve is a five or six. “It is important to keep the main thing the main thing and the main thing is to keep cows in adequate body condition and be able to manage body condition,” Bailey stated.
Making sure a cow is in good flesh sets her up for reproductive success. “I may sound like a broken record, but I truly believe we can solve a lot more problems by sticking to that fundamental, rather than looking for the silver bullet mineral or feed supplement or additive or whatever else,” Bailey added.
Steps to Improving Condition
If the herd is falling behind in body condition, there are some actions producers can take to bring the animals to an adequate level. The first step is determining the limiting nutrient, particularly during hay feeding season. “I see a lot of fescue samples every year and sometimes the protein content is below the requirements, but if it is — it is usually fairly close to the requirements. But where I often see a large gap is in the energy concentration in the forages,” Bailey explained.
The limiting nutrient in operations is most commonly calories, especially in situations in which producers are feeding low-quality hay. A cow may get full and quit voluntarily consuming the low-quality hay before she eats enough of it to get sufficient calories to meet her energy requirements for the day.
One way to manage for the deficiency is to balance the rations the cattle are receiving. This may include supplementing with a commodity mix or grain to boost the amount of energy cattle are consuming. The increase in energy feedstuffs will help to offset the deficiencies in the forages. However, the prices for commodity mixes and grains can be daunting.
A possible solution to ease the sticker shock of feedstuffs may be thinking outside of the traditional go-to forages. “The thing I have seen as the most undervalued feed on the market right now is higher quality forage,” Bailey stated. “By that I mean, if you look at poor-quality fescue hay selling for $85 a bale, you might be able to find higher-quality hay for $95 or $105 a bale. Or you might be able to find some not quite dairy or equine quality alfalfa that would sell for less than $200 a ton that would actually balance a ration better than something that is going to cost you 17, 18, 19 cents a pound like your commodity mix.”
Breed Heifers Earlier
Another option to improve conception rates involves setting up heifers to breed a month earlier. This allows the first-calf heifer additional time to recover after calving before going back out with a bull. When the first-calf heifers calve they are typically still growing themselves. They are using nutrients to grow their own bodies and simultaneously raise their calves. If they have plenty of nutrition, then it is more likely they will be able to accomplish those tasks as well as rebreed.