Maximizing Profitability of the Beef Herd through Reproduction Management
beef cattle Eighty percent of the income from a beef cattle herd is derived from the sale of calves. The value of the calves sold depends on the number of calves, the weight of the calves, the quality of the calves, and the market price.
Research shows that the use of a controlled breeding season, combined with a strict culling process, can greatly influence the productivity of the herd. If a cow isn’t pregnant by the end of the breeding season, she needs to be culled from the herd. This process significantly increases the number of calves produced from a herd over time!
Improved genetics on the bull side also increases productivity of his daughters, increases calf waning weights, and improves the quality of calves.
Quality costs money. The recommend ratio of bulls to cows is 1 bull per 25 cows. Ranchers can spend thousands of dollars on a bull. To reduce costs another option, such as artificial insemination, can be used. Artificial insemination has been around for a long time. It has been widely used in dairy cattle because of the rapid genetic improvement it provides, the lower costs associated with it, and it’s ease of use on cattle that are handled 2-3 times a day, making heat detection simple.
Beef cattle are not handled often, making heat detection difficult. However, with the development of a protocol for heat synchronization, beef cattle operations can now breed cattle at a prescribed time, using either natural cover or artificial insemination.
Regardless of size, producers, have access to high quality genetics by using these new techniques.
The gestation of the cow is 276 days on average, leaving only 89 days from calving to getting her rebred in order to meet the goal of producing a calf every year.
Pregnancy determination is also important. There is no need to feed an unproductive cow. There are four methods of determining the reproductive status of the cow: rectal palpation, ultrasound, blood test, or do nothing and take what you get.
Doing nothing results in feeding the open cow for two years in order to produce a calf. This is certainly not a profitable situation; however, it is a common practice by many producers. It’s the way grandpa did it.
Rectal palpation allows a trained individual to determine the pregnancy status of the cow while she is in the chute. Accuracy is dependent on the skill level of the technician and the stage of gestation. Early pregnancies and those between 90-120 days, are often missed diagnosed.
Ultrasound is referred to as the gold standard. It requires a highly trained technician and some very expensive equipment. It can also be used to diagnose medical conditions which may need to be addressed.
Blood tests are an inexpensive alternative (about $2.50). Anyone can draw 2 ml of blood from the tail of the cow and send the sample to the lab. Test results are generally returned by e-mail or fax in 48 hours; regular mail takes a little longer.
Beef producers need to examine every input to determine if there is a less expensive method to achieve the desired results; then, adoption of the practice change must occur for the enterprise to be sustainable.