Producers should consider cow nutrition for a successful breeding season
Plane of nutrition prior to and through the breeding season is one of the largest factors influencing time to first heat and conception rate, especially for replacement heifers and young cows. Considering feed costs make up the largest expense in a cow/calf operation, it is important for producers to determine the optimum pregnancy rate for their specific production environment.
Timing of the breeding season relative to forage quality is an important consideration. If the breeding season is in June when forage quality is typically high, the nutrient needs of the cow will likely be met. However, for May calving cows breeding in August when grass is maturing and protein levels are going down, supplementation may be needed.
Evaluating cow body condition score (BCS) and developing a feeding plan can help set cows up for a successful breeding season. Thin cows in less than a BCS of five, on a nine-point scale, should be gaining weight from calving through breeding. Cows in a BCS of five or six should be maintaining body condition during this time. Overfeeding cows to a BCS of seven or greater is not only costly, but may impact reproductive performance as well.
If possible, producers should consider sorting the younger and thinner females from the mature cows in good condition. This allows each group to be managed as needed without sacrificing pregnancy rates in the higher risk females or over conditioning the rest of the cowherd.
To increase the condition of thin cows, the ration needs to meet protein, vitamin and mineral requirements and exceed the requirement for energy. If the diet is deficient in protein and starch-based supplements, such as corn, the additional energy can actually increase milk production rather than support weight gain. Feeding fiber-based feeds high in protein and energy, such as distillers’ grains, can help improve BCS.
When purchasing additional feed resources, consider comparing feeds on a price per unit of protein and energy basis. Nebraska Extension has an Excel spreadsheet tool called the Feed Cost Cow-Q-Lator, which assists producers in determining which feed resource will meet cattle nutrient needs at the least cost.
If cows are constantly thin, it may indicate their mature size or genetic potential for milk production is not a good match for the feed resources available. In this case, it may be worth reviewing the production system and potentially making some changes in genetics, feeding management, timing of calving or a combination of these factors.
Nebraska Extension Educators and Specialists are available to assist producers with developing rations to meet cattle nutrient needs. For more information, contact a local Extension office or visit beef.unl.edu.
Erin Laborie is a Beef Systems Extension Educator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is based in Beaver City, Neb. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.