Scientists Offer Cow-Calf Producers Seasonal Tips

Preparing for breeding season, what to consider before

Published on: Apr 20, 2006

The money you don't spend is the money you make, advised Twig Marston, cow-calf production specialist at Kansas State University.

Spring is quickly upon us and many cow-calf producers are right in the thick of calving season. And while they may find little time to think about anything else, producers should also be gearing up for the breeding season, Marston says.

To help producers ensure that their cows are as efficient as possible, Marston recommends that they evaluate their cows using the Body Condition Score system prior to the breeding season to make sure they are at a healthy weight for breeding.

The BCS system is a way for a producer to estimate the average body condition of cows in his or her herd. The system is based on a range of scores from one to nine, with one being severely thin and weak and nine being obese.

"During the spring, cow-calf producers should make sure that the body condition scores of their cows are where they want them to be prior to breeding," Marston says. "Cows that are too skinny or overweight can have more fertility problems than those with a BCS of five or six."

A lactating cow needs an equivalent of 22 pounds of alfalfa hay per day to maintain her weight and up to 30 pounds of hay per day to gain weight, he says. This means that cows can eat grains, grain by-products, forages and/or silage to meet their nutrient requirements.

Cows are not the only ones that need to be in quality condition for breeding, Marston noted. To guarantee that bulls will be able to perform efficiently throughout the season, producers should have breeding soundness exams performed 30 to 90 days before the bulls are turned out to pasture with the cows, Marston says.

Yearling bulls, or bulls less than two years of age, should be able to service one female for every month that he is of age. For example, a bull that is 18 months old should be able to breed 18 females. Mature bulls can breed anywhere from 20 to 40 cows.

The breeding season should last 65 to 90 days, Marston says. He suggests that producers discuss with a local veterinarian about any animals that are not bred by then.

Producers who plan to artificially inseminate some of their females should choose those that are the best candidates for success, Marston says. Cows that usually make the best candidates are those that are 45 days postpartum, have a good BCS and are three years or older.

Before turning cattle out to pasture for the summer, he advises producers to make sure that forages have had a head start on growth. Cool season grasses will be ready sooner than will native grasses.

"Remember to increase magnesium levels at least one week to 10 days before putting cattle on pasture," he says.

For maximum production and profit, producers should try to match the grazing potential of their ranch to that of their livestock. This will help to reduce added feed costs by increasing the amount of forage available throughout the summer months.

Implementing a good vaccination program is also crucial for maximum production and herd health, says Larry Hollis, K-State Research and Extension veterinarian.

Vaccinate spring-born calves for seven-way Clostridial, also known as Blackleg, at "branding" or "turn-out" time, usually the first half of May, he says. Depending on a herd's past experiences with other diseases, producers may also want to administer respiratory viral vaccines and/or Mannheimia (Pasteurella).

Bulls and cows should receive a five-way viral respiratory vaccine after calving and before turning the bulls in with the cows, Hollis says. A vibrio-lepto five, which includes lepto hardjo-bovis, also needs to be administered before turn-out time.

Since flies can be carriers of diseases and cause weight reduction in cattle, producers should keep hay feeding sites clean, says Justin Talley, entomology graduate student at K-State.

"Stable flies would be the main concern since they come into this area around May and population levels can reach damaging levels at the first of June," he says. K-State research shows that the feeding method of hay during winter can greatly affect the stable fly population the following spring or summer.

Horn and face flies can be controlled with endectocides, which treat internal and external parasites, and topical insecticides, which are applied directly on the animal's skin, Talley says.