Calves that arrive in the first 21 days of the breeding season generally have heavier weights, says Sandy Johnson, beef cattle specialist for K-State Research and Extension -- all the more reason for beef producers to consider shortening the breeding season for more uniform, heavier calves.
But weights are the only advantage beef producers may see as a result of a shorter breeding season – producers may also be able to more accurately time vaccinations, such as a scours prevention vaccination, which needs to be given at a specific interval prior to calving, Johnson said.
Tightening the season also reduces the variation in nutritional requirements within the herd at any one point in time. All of this could help producers save time and money on herd inputs.
Johnson said as producers consider keeping back replacement heifers and rebuilding their herd numbers, they should use the opportunity to shorten the breeding and calving season by considering 4 quick tips: controlling the duration of bull exposure to the herd, breeding first-calf heifers earlier than mature cows, matching herd genetics to the environment and making committed culling decisions.
1. Mange your bull
According to Johnson, well-managed herds achieve pregnancy rates of 90% or greater with 60-day breeding seasons.
"A lot of people, for management purposes, would rather leave the bulls out until they take cows off grass," she said. "I can understand that, but in a way, that's what starts them down this path of allowing later-calving cows to stay in the herd. In most cases, those later-calving cows are not fitting into your system for some reason."
Related: EPDs: Selecting Bulls for Easy Calving
If cows aren't consistently calving early in the season, they're probably not getting adequate nutrition, Johnson said, which is generally the primary reason why cows calve late. The second reason might relate to when they calve as a first-calf heifer.
"First-calf heifers always take longer to resume cycling," she said. "They may take anywhere from two to three weeks longer than their mature cow herd counterparts if they are getting all they need to eat and even longer if they are not, which is often the case."
2. Give first-calf heifers special treatment
For a cow to calve at the same time every year, she has 82 days to re-breed after calving, Johnson said. A typical cow with adequate nutrition takes about 50 days to start cycling again, while a first-calf heifer will take closer to 70 days. Therefore, beef producers should consider breeding and calving first-calf heifers before the mature cow herd.
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