Improving Beef Cattle Reproductive Efficiency

One cow, skipping one calving season equals a $500 loss, at very least.  Cattle management encompasses many duties for cattle owners and improving reproductive efficiency of the herd lumps much of that management into one basket, of sorts, because nutrition is also involved.  Defined in a simple manner, a reproductively efficient cow will calve every year at about the same time.

How important is reproductive efficiency?

Importance of traits for the cow-calf producer

For a cow-calf producer, reproductive efficiency is 9 times more important economically than carcass traits.  At the Florida Cattlemen’s Institute and Allied Trade Show (FCIATS) held January 10, 2019, John Genho (Neogen) presented a “Practical Ranch Approach to Genetics.”  He discussed three broad categories of beef cattle production:  reproduction/health traits, growth traits, and carcass traits.   The big “take home” lesson:  reproduction and health traits are the most important economically, but are least heritable because management and environment play such a huge role.  However, these traits can show the greatest improvement from a crossbreeding program compared to the other two categories.

A cow eating from a feed trough at the Beef Teaching Unit.

What are the difficulties?

In Florida, we have to be careful how far we try to maximize production (cow size) due to the nutritional limits provided by our forages.  It is necessary to match the cow (both breed type and size) with the environment she lives in; do not set her up for failure right out of the gate.  Another timing difficulty for calving each year has to do with physical constraints.  A cow must have 30 to 45 days for post-partum recovery of the uterus.  Add in 280 days for gestation, and that leaves only 55 days at the most for breeding.  Cows capable of making this turn-around should be kept in the herd.  Those that do not should be replaced.  Accurate record keeping is pivotal to improving a herd’s efficiency.  Also, having a well-established breeding season will help identify the cows that breed early and calve every year.

How to move to a breeding season, painlessly?

There is a University of Florida publication to help you slowly move over to a breeding season over a 2-3 year period.  Converting to a Breeding Season  Not only will a breeding season help you identify productive females, it can help with management and marketing.  Feeding cattle that all have similar production levels (all lactating or all dry) will optimize your feed/nutrition budget.  Also, if you have a group of calves to sell that are more uniform in size can make you more money (or at least save some trips to the market).

Uniform calf crops make more money for producers when marketing the cattle.

What are some reproductive technologies you could use?

Many times, we only think of synchronization of females as a tool for artificial insemination (AI).  While AI is a great tool for a small producer to improve genetics quickly, not having the hassle of owning a bull could be an even better perk.  But, if you own a bull, you can still reap benefits from using synchronization.  Using progesterone in controlled intravaginal release devices (CIDR) can help to jump start the reproductive cycle   Management of the Postpartum Cow   Perhaps the greatest application for CIDRs is with almost-to-cycle heifers or those heifers within one month of being fully pubertal.  If heifers can enter a breeding program on the very beginning of the breeding season, theoretically they will be more apt to stay in the herd and never miss a year.  Cows that breed early in the breeding season will calve early in the calving season will repair earlier to be prepared to re-breed earlier in the next breeding season.  It is a viscous cycle but a cycle with which we have tools to manage.

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