Across the country, the effects of last year’s weather could impact this year’s breeding season. Wet weather in the Midwest and severe drought in the Southern Plains hurt forage quality and availability in many areas. Changes in cow condition may play a role in delayed estrus or even in reduced pregnancy rates this summer.
Cow condition. Typically, breeding season success is determined when the cow delivers the calf, says Justin Sexten, University of Missouri Extension beef nutrition specialist. The 60-day period prior to calving is critical to keeping cows in adequate condition. "The winter has been relatively mild, but producers need to continue to monitor cow conditiondue to our situation seven months ago. A number of producers had to contend with rain, and hay quality could be decreased for some producers," Sexton says.
"Hay analysis will indicate if supplementation is needed or not, or at least let a producer know where the best hay is located," says Steve Boyles, Ohio State University Extension beef specialist. Late gestation and lactation merits the best hay for cows so they are on a higher plane of nutrition to keep their body condition score up, while providing for their calf.
Ideally, you want cows with a body condition score of 5 or 6 at breeding. For some producers, additional supplementation will be required to improve that condition if pastures don’t produce as much forage as expected.
In Missouri, producers faced a little bit of everything in terms of weather conditions, Sexten says. Overall, the hay supply was OK. "We were fairly unique in thatwe didn’t start feeding until late winter. And hay quality has not been an issue."
What will be an issue is that pastures that were stressed in late summer and fall may require additional time before herd turnout to let the plants develop an adequate leaf and root system.
Don’t forget bulls. Give proper attention to herd bulls, especially if you’re purchasing this spring.
"Bulls are usually undermanaged," Sexten says. He recommends that producers bring new bulls in at least 30 days prior to turnout to help them adapt to forage resources. If bulls are coming off a high nutritional plane, they could be stressed at cow turnout; this gives them time to adapt and maintain body condition.
With trichomoniasis on the rise in several states, producers need to be cautious when bringing in outside bulls. Many states have rules regarding trichomoniasis testing, so check with your state veterinarian to make sure you are in compliance. Treat parasites. The warmer winter and spring might mean parasites will emerge earlier than normal.
Gary Sides, cattle nutritionist for Pfizer Animal Health Veterinary Operations, says parasites can reduce cow condition and, in turn, impact postpartum interval.
"It is extremely important to read the label every time to ensure you are dosing correctly, reducing the risk for side effects and not creating resistance," Sides cautions. "Not giving cattle the full, labeled dose provides parasites the opportunity to become resistant and prevents cattle from reaching their performance potential."
It is recommended to deworm cattle at green-up in the spring and turnout in the fall, depending on geographic location. "Producers should collaborate with their veterinarian to develop a solid deworming program that is suited for their herd," Sides says.