All of us cattle producers are focused in many directions on any given day. It’s easy to lose sight of how soon breeding season will be approaching. Yes, it’s early in 2015, but for spring calving operations, the breeding season for 2016 calves will be here in less than 90 days.
By evaluating body condition scores on your cows and first-calf heifers now, you can avoid breed up wrecks in a few months. I’m not advocating having cows in excessive flesh at any time. Instead, if you understand the concept of an inclining plane of nutrition, you can manage your feed resources to your advantage.
Very simply, a cow needs to be at or approaching a body condition score of five to breed. If she is at a three or four body condition score or less, nature tells her body to utilize available energy to maintain itself, and she often won’t show signs of heat.
Pay special attention to first-calf heifers. They are still growing to mature size. Having them in an optimum body condition score for breeding can help improve their longevity in your herd. It is important to remember the heifers that breed on the first or second cycle will often produce your next generation of replacement females. Giving your heifers a thorough review today will help ensure they perform to their potential.
Start by evaluating your nutrition plan. A cow moving forward on an inclining plane of nutrition will have an advantage over a female that is fat, stale and stagnant. This concept is often confusing and one of the most under-utilized economic tools we have in beef cow management. We don’t have to run fat cows—it is too costly on our feed budgets, leads to problems in calving and damages cow longevity.
Instead, we need to calve at an optimum body condition score and then as the cow nurses a calf, provide her the additional nutrition to be on an incline. Very simply, if a cow is gaining weight for the 45 to 60 days prior to her first rebreeding opportunity, she will have a greater advantage in conception and throughout her pregnancy compared to a cow on a stagnant plane of nutrition.
How you manage your cows and heifers to hit these targets will depend on your location and production model. For some cowherds, the needed nutrition boost may come from something as simple as moving to a fresh pasture that has standing forage and a protein supplement. In other parts of the country, it may take an increase in additional feed or hay.
If you recognize that your cowherd or first-calf heifers are behind and you don’t have the resources to move to an inclining plane of nutrition, weaning early is an option. By removing calves, cows can have an almost immediate jump in available metabolic energy. Yes, you might sacrifice some expensive pounds on the calf side, but you won’t sacrifice next year’s calf crop.
Don’t miss the chance to give your cowherd every breed up opportunity. Take a few extra minutes to evaluate cows as individuals and made adjustments today. Don’t wait—it is expensive to play catch up!