– Dr. Les Anderson, Beef Extension Professor, University of Kentucky
My colleagues and I like to rib each other about which discipline is more important in beef production nutrition, genetics, health, or reproduction. Of course, I argue that reproductive efficiency is the most important because reproductive rate drives gross revenue. But we all know it’s not that simple. All disciplines need to be managed and blended to optimize reproductive potential.
Have you ever baked a cake? I am not a baker, but to make a great cake one needs to have eggs, sugar, flour, butter, milk, and flavorings (chocolate is my favorite). These ingredients mixed in the proper proportions can make an incredible product; a moist, flavorful cake. Adjust or ignore any of the key ingredients and the ability to make a delicious cake is greatly impacted. No flour, no cake. No sugar, and the cake tastes awful. No flavoring and, again, a cake that is not satisfying. Alter any of the ingredients or even the amount used, and the cake can be unsatisfying. To make a GREAT cake, it takes the right ingredients, mixed in the correct amount by a careful practitioner.
If you think about it, reproduction or reproductive rate is the cake and genetics, nutrition, the health program, etc are all essential ingredients. One of the most essential ingredients is nutrition. Nutrient availability (quality and quantity) impacts body condition score which governs reproduction. If adequate nutrients are not available, the female will struggle to initiate estrous cycles and reproductive rate is low.
Genetics play a key role too. The size and milking ability of your animals need to match the quality/quantity of the nutrients you are providing. Bigger/growthier animals that milk more require additional nutrients and their ability to produce a calf will be greatly reduced if they are not provided adequate nutrients.
Another essential ingredient in reproductive success is health. Abortifacients abound and high reproductive rates are only possible if cattle are immune. Vaccinations are a necessity and the ability of females to mount the immune response is dependent upon nutritional status, including the mineral program.
So, my colleagues and I are all correct. Just like baking, achieving a high reproduction rate requires every ingredient to be controlled. Just enough body condition, a pinch of vaccine, and genetics with the proper flavor.
I guess I know why I studied reproduction. I love cake!