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Cowherd profitability depends on herd health plans

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Profitability of cow/calf operations are dependent on a healthy herd and high conception rates. Therefore, as branding approaches, it is important for producers to create a herd health plan to promote a sustainable herd. 

Applying proper vaccinations using Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines and product label directions can improve the overall health of a herd. 

Additionally, as a producer, it’s important to have a veterinarian not only help with vaccine protocols but also with breeding soundness exams (BSE). A BSE is a cost-effective program evaluating a bull’s ability to breed. 

Having bulls not able to breed can significantly reduce conception rates. 

Therefore, as producers move into breeding season it is important to ensure cows and bulls are not only in proper body condition to be bred, but bulls are tested to make sure they are able to breed. 

Herd health plan

Branding season has arrived and is the time to manage calves by identification, castration, dehorning and blackleg shots. 

An appropriate herd health plan (HHP) along with a protocol ensures sustainable beef cattle production. The HHP should include cattle nutrition, reproduction, vaccination schedules and marketing. Proper vaccination and cattle handling procedures are essential to promote overall health.  

A producer should work with their veterinarian to create a vaccination and overall health plan best suited for their management goals and resources. The veterinarian can help a beef operation best tailor health management to deal with local diseases, parasites and other regional health issues. 

The core vaccination program for calves (birth to three months of age) should include: four-way infectious bovine rhinotracheitis; bovine virus diarrhea; Prevnar13; bovine respiratory syncytial virus; two-way Pasteurella; and 4/7-way Clostridial. There are additional considerations, such as fly control and deworming. 

To be successful, it is important to follow BQA guidelines, read product labels, talk to the local veterinarian and handle cattle with as little stress as possible. 

soundness exams

As producers, one main management goal is to have high conception rates. However, in order to achieve high conception rates, not only do cows and bulls have to be in proper body condition, but bulls must be sound and fertile.

Reproductive success requires bulls that can detect cows in estrus and successfully breed them. A proven and cost-efficient method to test the breeding potential of bulls is through a BSE. 

The production of sperm is a 61-day process; therefore, BSEs are recommended to be done through a veterinarian within 30 to 60 days of the start of a breeding season. This period allows producers to find replacement bulls if needed. BSEs are a relatively quick and economical procedure. This method is most effective in identifying bulls at the lower end of the fertility spectrum by placing bulls into categories of satisfactory, unsatisfactory or deferred. 

Any bull meeting all minimum standards for the physical exam, scrotal size and semen quality will be classed as a “satisfactory” potential breeder.

During a BSE the vet evaluates bulls on the following: body condition via a physical exam; lameness; eyesight; internal structures of the reproductive system including the prostate, seminal vesicles, ampulla and inguinal rings; external structures of the reproductive system including the penis, prepuce, sheath, testicles, scrotum and epididymis; scrotal circumference is measured and adequacy is determined based on established standards by age to evaluate the daily production of high-quality sperm; and semen to determine sperm motility and the percent of morphologically normal sperm.

During the breeding season, it is important to observe bulls and evaluate their soundness. If a dominant bull gets lame, it is important to remove him from the herd because sound feet and legs are very important. If they are unsound, this can result in the inability to travel and mount for mating. 

When buying or leasing a bull it is important to consider expected progeny differences traits fitting into a producer’s management goals and cows. Additionally, it is important to test these bulls for sexual transmitted diseases such as trichomoniasis. 

Alex Orozco is a University of Wyoming Extension educator in Crook County. Send comments on this article to 

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