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Planning for Next Year’s Calf Crop Start Now

By Jenay Werle, PAg, Livestock and Feed Extension Specialist, Yorkton

March 2021

Beef cow with two calves

Having open cows at the end of breeding season is not economical, and steps should be taken to make sure that the cow has all she needs in order to be bred. As open cows don’t produce a calf, steps should be taken to make sure that the cow has all she needs in order to be bred. This becomes quite important in late gestation as the nutritional needs of the cow increase. Combined with cold winter weather, a cow with inadequate nutrition in the last trimester may lose body condition. The demands of lactation make it difficult to put weight back on and a poorly-conditioned cow is less likely to rebreed compared to an ideal cow with a body condition score of 2.5 to three (out of five).

Ensuring that the nutritional demands of the cows are met in their last trimester can help cows weather the demands of lactation. These cows tend to recover more quickly when compared to thin cows, saving some management during the breeding season when trying to put weight back on. When it comes to success in rebreeding, it is better to maintain good cow body condition prior to calving instead of playing catch up during lactation.

Strive to have the majority of the herd conceive in the first cycle so that most of the cows give birth in the first 21 days of calving. Given a 280-day gestation period and 365 days in the year, cattle have approximately 85 days from calving to successful rebreeding. Management of the cows during this 85-day period is influenced not only by pre and post-calving body condition, but also by feed and pasture quality. 

To prepare for the upcoming breeding season, remember the following:

  • Winter calving requires proper forage and grain management to meet the needs of lactation.
  • Spring calving requires available pasture with a plan in place to buffer any spring pasture delays due to cool weather or lack of moisture.
  • Nutritional needs are highest pre-breeding, so movement to a new pasture or supplemental feeding with grain/range pellets may be necessary.
  • Water quality needs to be assessed. Poor water quality can reduce feed intake making it harder for the cows to put weight back on. Mineral compounds like sulphates may interfere with trace mineral and nutrient absorption causing poor conception rates.
  • Mineral supplementation is needed to guard against deficiencies.
  • Review your parasite and herd health management plan, including vaccinations, with your veterinarian to make sure your herd health plan is up to date.
  • More calves born in the first cycle equals more pounds weaned in the fall.

These are just a few items to consider when preparing cattle for rebreeding. For more information on interpreting feed test results, developing rations or additional questions related to pre-breeding nutrition strategies and management, contact a livestock and feed extension specialist or call the Agriculture Knowledge Center at 1-866-457-2377.

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