A holiday break makes a good time to tighten up your calving season with controlled breeding.
By: Lawton Stewart, Extension Animal Scientist, University of Georgia
Converting to a controlled breeding season can be overwhelming. It’s a process that can take years and involves keeping up with dates and records and culling what you may think are your better cows. However, the long term benefits are well worth the work. For any task this large, it’s best to develop a plan of attack. To convert to a controlled breeding season, the first step is to determine the time of year you want to market your calves. Then, work backwards to determine when the calving season needs to be in order to wean your calves for this marketing window. You now have three dates set: 1) when to pull the bull from the herd, 2) when to pregnancy check, and 3) when to wean calves. The next step is to squeeze the breeding season over time by changing the date you are putting the bull in with the cow herd (or the date you synchronize your herd for artificial insemination). This is the process that will take time to accomplish because you’re trying to get cows bred back sooner each year; therefore it’s a good idea to spread this out over several years. Each year, delay putting the bull in with the herd by approximately 45 days.
These dates and strategies can be confusing, but there are two methods to make the process easier. The first is the holiday method. Once you’ve determined the time of year for your calving season, target holidays that coincide with important breeding season dates to help you remember when to perform the tasks.
Now we can construct a plan based around holidays to help up remember how to manage our breeding season. This is illustrated in Figure 1. As you can see, once we determine our breeding season, 4th of July and Labor Day serve as permanent time points for removing the bull and pregnancy checking, respectively. Then, beginning with the first year, start turning in the bull around Christmas, then Valentine’s Day, and finally April Fool’s Day to squeeze down to a 90-day calving season.
The second method uses a computer based program to calculate the important dates. “UGA’s 90-Day Calving Season Calculator” is an excellent example of one of these programs. This is an Excel based program that allows you to enter your target weaning date, and the program will calculate the dates needed to convert to a 90-day calving/breeding season. This program is available at the UGA Beef Team’s website.
Although it may be overwhelming at first glance, utilizing a controlled breeding season can have a positive effect on all aspects of your production system.