As You Tighten Your Belt, Think of Tightening Your Breeding Season

– Dr. Les Anderson, Extension Professor, Beef Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky

After a few years of record market highs for feeder calves, the markets have suddenly corrected and times have certainly gotten tougher. We can’t control the markets but we can control our productivity and our efficiency of production. The primary factor that reduces production efficiency for beef cow-calf producers is a low reproductive rate.

The first step to increasing reproductive rate is establishing and limiting the breeding season. Controlling the breeding season increases revenue and decreases cow costs leading to an increased opportunity to profit. What steps need to be taken to control and shorten the breeding season?

  1. Set the dates of the breeding season. Since it is fall, a great example would be to breed over a 70-day window beginning November 22 and ending on February 1.
  2. Determine which cows are going to be “problem” breeders. Problem breeders are those cows that are anticipated to be anestrus at the start of the breeding season. These cows include all two-year-old cows (first-calf heifers) and any cow that calves after October 1. Thin cows are also a problem regardless of when they calve. If cows calved thin (body condition score < 5), they need to be separated and fed to gain weight at least through the first 30 days of the breeding season.
  3. Determine which cows are going to be “extreme problem” breeders. Extreme problem cows are those that are anticipated to be anestrus for more than half of the breeding season. These are mainly cows that either calve right before or during the breeding season. These cows need to be managed separately from the breeding herd if at all possible.
  4. Create a plan to improve the reproductive performance of these three groups of cows.
  • a. All cows need to be fed to maintain or increase body condition score (slightly) and need to be vaccinated (RDC, lepto, vibrio, etc.) and dewormed. Vaccination against abortifacients needs to occur at least 21 days before the breeding season.
  • b. Early-calving mature cows need no additional management. Just turn them out with the bull on November 22.
  • c. Problem cows need to receive a CIDR® device for 7 days immediately prior to bull turn out. So, November 14-21. Cows need to have calved before November 1. Results from field trial work in over 200 late-calving cows suggests that a exposure of cows as early as 14 days after calving can improve the rebreeding performance in 80% of females treated. The average shift in calving interval was 36 days earlier.
  • d. Extreme problem cows need to receive a CIDR® device for 7 days immediately prior to bull turn out. Group the cows so that they receive a CIDR device at least 14 days after calving. Thus, cows calving in November would receive a CIDR device on from December 14-21 and then taken to the breeding pasture. Cows calving in December will have limited opportunity to breed depending upon their calving date. These cows can be treated with a CIDR® device. If these cows calved by December 20, they could be treated with a CIDR from Jan 3-10 before exposed to the bull. These cows could may still have two opportunities to breed by early February.

Data currently being collected by the University of Kentucky Beef IRM group demonstrates that following this step-wise plan for reproduction can improve pregnancy rate by 6% and increase the pounds of calf weaned per cow exposed to the bull by about 150 pounds. Revenue on these farms increased by 34% even in today’s market. Controlling reproduction pays regardless of the market.