The Holy Grail for Cattle Management
Turn on the television, listen to the radio, flip through your favorite magazine, and you’ll notice there are a lot of management, business, and investment schemes out there. With information being easier and easier to share, new theories crop up out of nowhere and are being presented at an ever increasing speed. If I was to shoot an arrow and try to hit a common theme with every successful program out there, at some capacity there are a couple of common themes. The phrase “do more with less” or “more production with less time involved” would be two I think are important to recognize. There is a lot of room for people to make money with cattle in all kinds of ways. For most operations though, decreasing calving season and increasing percentage of weaned calf crop per cow exposed would fit those statements above “to a T”. (Which, by the way, most likely came from the word tittle. Tittle is defined as a small stroke of the pen. In English literature, the saying “to a tittle” appears nearly a century before “to a T.”) This subject is where many input salesman feel they have the ultimate cure. Unfortunately, there are simply too many variables to simplify one solution for a one-size-fits-all scenario. My list of areas of concern affecting the economic indicators mentioned previously would include: Management, Disease, Nutrition, Cow Fertility, Bull Fertility, Genetics, and Weather. (Reproduction is very finicky so this is not a finite list.) I will cover the highlights trying to discuss the 20% or less that has 80% or more of the impact that we can control. I will discuss cow and bull fertility in greater depth in a subsequent post, it is a subject of it's own.
Weather- Obviously we can’t control the weather. However, what is important is monitoring and adjusting activities accordingly. The most damaging of weather tends to be heat. By elevating body temperature, heat can cause large losses in reproductive efficiency. Ways to mitigate can be working cattle in the night, having lots of water available, and minimizing handling stress. The best way to deal with heat is to tweak your breeding season to avoid extremes. I say that knowing calving season decisions cannot be based off of one factor. Cold weather tends to really affect forage raised heifers during estrus synchronization, particularly on the days you are actually breeding. They tend to use extra energy reserves to create heat rather than display signs of estrus. This can be difficult but is best managed by supplementing energy and if it is bad enough, make alternative plans for breeding.
Genetics- I’ve talked about this in past blog posts like this one (https://www.stockmangenetics.com/single-post/2017/10/17/The-Forgotten-Art) but feet and leg structure coupled with fleshing ability is very important. Also, proper hormone function is a must and is affected both from environments and genetics. I would also like to mention that the evolving study in E.P.D.’s and genomics surrounding heifer pregnancy and stayability need to be looked at. For herds that are straight bred, lethal genetic recessive disorders need to be taken into account. We also know from looking over the fence at the Holstein breed, we also need to look at the role of fertility haplotypes in early embryonic death. Of course, crossbreeding is a shining star in the fertility department. See my previous blog posts on that here (https://www.stockmangenetics.com/single-post/2018/05/23/F1-or-Fnone) and more on fertility in a later post.
Nutrition- This is like personal finances. For most people evaluating budgets, reviewing registers, and looking at online accounts can be downright boring. However, it is very important to your success. Nutrition can be as easy or as complicated as you make it. The easiest way to handle nutrition is to start by testing your feed and getting a baseline on mineral status. The best way to determine mineral status is a randomized representation of your herd and collecting liver samples. Once you are armed with this information you can judiciously put together a feed and mineral program that has the best ROI for you. Specifically, when we talk about nutrition around conception, I believe it is crucial to have these animals on a rising plane of nutrition. I’ve seen in the right conditions, cows that were BCS 4-4.5 breed up very well. Granted, they were getting a lot of great feed and continued to stay on that same diet for several months following. With heifers, it is even more crucial. Particularly if they are a touch green. One weather pattern can mess up a whole breeding project and rob precious pregnancies unless proper supplementation is given.
Disease- I’m no expert here, I’m just pointing out that there is a lot of subclinical disease that wreaks havoc on conception rate. Also, improperly timed vaccinations can really create conception wrecks. I am not a veterinarian and I don’t play one on TV. I recommend consulting with your local practitioner and testing for problems related to your are to make sure this isn’t an issue.
Management- In real estate, the mantra is “Location! Location! Location!” For implementing management strategies and inputs into livestock operations I’d change that mantra to “Situation! Situation! Situation!” The trick is in identifying which is the lowest hanging fruit or put another way, which area is actually the problem. There is very little that couldn’t be improved in livestock production. But, animal productivity does not directly equal profitability. We can implement every new strategy, drug, and gadget known to man and still lose a lot of money on cattle. Therefore, it is paramount that we identify the area we are most likely having issues with and apply investments of money and time there. A great example would be as follows:
A ranch in the intermountain west is a subscriber to the over-wintering heifer strategy that involves breeding heifers at only 55%-60% of their mature body weight as compared to the traditional 65%-70%. The producer gets much lower pregnancy rates on his heifers than compared to a conventional program. This was anticipated, what wasn’t anticipated was the drastic reduction in conception rate when those heifers are bred back for their second calf. This is a really generic scenario. In real life, a person would want to investigate diseases, vaccine protocol, A.I. protocol, bull and semen fertility, weather, etc. In our fictional situation let’s assume all those outside factors are par for the course. Another way to confirm this would be to have a control group of heifers that were treated the same, other than development. This group that would have been fed to 65% mature weight would of had a higher conception rate. The obvious place to spend money here would be on further developing those bred heifers after they are confirmed bred so that they continue to grow. This would not be the situation for the drug rep to step in and recommend a $17/head parasite program. While there may be some production advantages, it is clearly not the best ROI for this producer. Spin this situation to where proper nutrition is there but worm loads are out of control and all of a sudden, a strategic worming program becomes the star solution.
I hope this gives you something to think about while you go throughout your day. I’m by no means an expert, but I enjoy walking through these scenarios. If you have some thoughts or just want to talk cows I would love to hear from you. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is 402.310.5056.