3 Common Breeding Season Mistakes & Solutions
Achieving a successful breeding season can be a lot more complicated than simply picking three months on a calendar. A cow is pregnant for about 285 days out of an entire year, which leaves only a small window for breeding. Proper planning, effort and herd management are critical to see the best returns when calves go to market. Here is a look at some of the most common breeding season mistakes and solutions to help boost reproductive success on your dairy or cattle ranch.
Mistake #1: Allowing the calving season to last longer than planned
The general rule is that a cow should calf once a year. However, in order to keep calving season within an established timeframe, that leaves only a small window for the breeding process. As a whole, it is best if you have a calving plus breeding season totaling no more than 80 days.
If you allow the season to go on too long, your entire operation could be affected. Late calvers commonly have a higher risk of disease and less production. These problems can get worse by the year, so keep close tabs on cows that are pushing the calving season beyond the norm. You can also help shorten your calving season by being more attentive to details such as prepartum nutrition, herd health and fertility management.
Mistake #2: Not giving the herd bulls enough attention before breeding season
If you don't rely solely on artificial insemination (AI), your herd bulls serve just as big a role in the breeding season as the cows. Most farmers are good about doing an annual exam to make sure their bulls are sound enough for reproduction. However, other tasks should be addressed before the onset of the season, such as:
Vaccinations: Bulls need vaccinations prior to breeding, just as the rest of the cowherd
Other health matters: A full battery of conditions should be addressed, including foot rot, fly issues and pinkeye
- New stock: Your new bulls should be accustomed to grass before they are released for mating, and they should have healthy weights
Mistake #3: Not utilizing estrous synchronization protocols and new technology to boost conception rates
Synchronization protocols are set forth annually by the Beef Reproduction Task Force. These estrus synchronization protocols are designed to ensure that producers have the best pregnancy rates among their herds, and the information is based on highly reliable and timely data from field research. Estrus synchronization is much easier to achieve now thanks to modern veterinary knowledge and the availability of technology.
For instance, many cattle farmers have access to hormones such as progesterone and prostaglandin to control and induce estrous and ovulation. Additionally, you can utilize some of the latest technologies to detect when your cattle come in heat after delivering hormones. The goal of synchronizing is to get all the cows in their cycles around the same time — but you still have to know when the cow is ready.
Moocall HEAT is a system that monitors herd behavior and sends real-time alerts when the cows or heifers are in their 8-30 hour heat cycle. With Moocall, teaser bulls wear collars and ear tags are placed on heifers. This helps you effectively introduce breeding bulls or streamline your AI plans.
A Note About Herd Handling and Final Tips for Breeding Season Success
Herd handling is always important to the health of the herd, but especially during breeding season. In addition to avoiding the most common mistakes, you must work toward low-stress and efficient handling of your cattle. A few tips to keep in mind:
Keep it small: Don't handle large numbers of cattle in the same crowd pen or alley at once. Instead, bring in three or four cows or heifers at a time for a less stressful experience.
Move front to back: Cows tend to be less stressed when they can see you move toward their rear end, so work your cattle from front to back during AI, preg testing, and other sessions.
Choose a safe environment: Consider investing in portable equipment, which can allow you to set up for various breeding tasks right in the pasture.
Conduct early checkups: Do ultrasound preg testing on your heard early (30-100 days in). This should allow you to sort the cows into groups depending on calving dates, which can lessen feeding costs and focus labor and time.
A well-managed, uniform calving season gives you a better chance for a profitable return. Some markets even prefer calves that come from ranches or farms where the breeding season has been well-documented and properly managed. In many cases, just a few adjustments to your plans, some updated equipment and focused attention can make a big difference.
Author bio: Dr. John L. Curtis is President and founder of Agtech, Inc. Dr. Curtis has a Ph.D. in animal science with extensive experience in all areas of cattle embryo transfer technology. He maintains active participation in daily operations of the business, including in-house research and development. Dr. Curtis also provides hands-on livestock embryo transfer training to students in the United States and internationally.