Problems Beget Problems!

– Dr. Roy Burris, Beef Extension Professor, University of Kentucky

Did you hear about the guy that got his nose broken in six places?  He said that he needed to quit going to those places!  Cattle producers are a lot like that guy. We keep making a lot of the same mistakes. However, there are some problems that we should work to eliminate in our effort to have “trouble-free” cow herds.

Let’s start with a few things that should be obvious. Cows should be selected for small teats and tight, clean udders. We could quit milking cows that have just calved to reduce the size of their teats enough that a newborn calf can suckle. Hopefully, you don’t have to get cows in the barn when they calve. Cull cows with big, bulbous teats – don’t keep breeding them. Problems beget problems.

Those large, loosely attached udders that cows drag through the mud and manure should be eliminated, too. Not only are they difficult for a newborn calf to nurse they are a good source of pathogens that can cause scours. Cull those cows. The most important thing that a cow will do is raise a calf. Don’t stack the deck against calf survival.

There’s something else that I don’t do anymore – not just because I’m older, either. I don’t trim hooves. I have done that some in the past. But that was years ago, possibly because we had horses and there was usually some hoof trimmers around. But don’t do it! Select for sound feet and legs. Give those “ski-footed”, “screw-clawed” bulls and cows a shot of “trailermycin”! Problems beget problems.

Don’t tolerate bad dispositions, either. A rogue bull or cow will tear-up more than they are worth – and, possibly, injure you in the process. The breeding program is the best place to start. Select animals that are not problems and don’t propagate those that are. Cull behavioral problems. Some folks once believed that aggressive bulls were better breeders or crazy cows were more maternal. Don’t buy that. Docility also effects performance even in feedlot cattle. Start evaluating young cattle the first time that you work them and cull those with poor dispositions at weaning because … problems beget problems.

What about “pulling” calves (assisting calves being born)? Hopefully you are only pulling some that are presented abnormally. Cows/heifers should be bred, managed and selected so that they can have a normal calf. Bulls should be used that will sire normal sized calves. Breed virgin heifers with normal pelvic areas to known calving ease bulls. We, at the UKREC, pulled two calves out of 155 births last year. It hasn’t been too many years ago that cattlemen would pull about one-third of calves from heifers. We can minimize assisting cows at parturition and sleep a little better.

What about cows that don’t claim their calves. Cows can get mixed up when several are calving at the same time in the same area. I can understand them claiming the wrong calf but I expect them to claim something!  If they don’t/won’t “pair-up”, go ahead and save the calf. Then sell both of them – as singles.

How much dehorning do you do? No much anymore. Yes, we can successfully breed the horns off cattle.  Dehorning is another procedure that can be avoided. Castrations cannot be avoided in most operations and should be done as soon as possible.

If you are in the business for the long haul, you need to continually breed for and select for cattle that are trouble-free, culling those that are not. It will pay off both economically and in personal satisfaction. Eliminating problems in your herd is a continuous process.

My rule of thumb is that your 2-year old’s should breed back early (1st or 2nd cycle), maintain good body condition, wean a good calf and require no extra attention. If this is happening in your herd, your breeding and nutritional programs are pretty well matched. Congratulations.