Garfield County Cooperative Extension

It is Fertility that pays the bills

Rick Nelson Extension Educator, Ag/4-H

It is Fertility that pays the bills

A calf that is never born will never be sold. The truth of that statement is obvious to the point of ridiculousness, it is the foundation of every decision a beef producer makes regarding the basic management philosophy of their operation.

In short, what calf crop percentage or weaning percentage should a producer shoot for? Or, said another way, how much loss at calving and weaning are you willing to stand? It is a profitable time to own cows, but only if a producer has a competitive cost structure with the right genetics and management to compete in today’s marketplace. This statement is according to Rick Funston, a reproductive physiologist with the University of Nebraska. At times like these, minimizing input costs is critical. But it does not pay to compromise fertility in the process. Fertility is the most important trait in beef production, especially in the cow-calf sector, but all the way to the plate. If we do not have a live calf, we will not have a product for the consumer. There is a huge financial cost before she produces a weaned calf. We need to look at low-input heifer development so we do not have exorbitant costs for a female that is difficult to get rebred.

Relatively cheaper feed such as crop residue may bring slower gains, but that is generally no problem for five-weight weaned heifers that only need to gain 250 pounds. When the optimum percentage get bred and move on to better nutrition on summer grass, those heifers respond more favorably than their peers developed to a higher weight on better feed. The slower start heifers rebreed at a higher rate and stay in the herd longer because their diets fluctuate less than heifers given every early feed advantage.

One can run them on the best pasture available, get them all pregnant and then never expose to anything that good again. The mentioned Nebraska work is focused on treating a heifer like she is going to be treated as a cow. A producer aiming for 95% or more bred is not realistic, if that is accomplished were we really selecting for the more fertile heifers? Second calf heifers will most likely rebreed a few percentage points lower than that, but on low-cost feed such as native pasture or other crop residue.

Data on early-born steers has shown their advantage from feedyard to packinghouse and beef quality grade. Recent data also shows heifers born in the first 21 days of a calving season are heavier at weaning, gain at the average rate after that and begin cycling before the breeding season. Those heifers will experience a higher pregnancy rate, more in the first 21 days, breed back sooner and wean a heavier calf than average. Unfortunately, many producers cull the early-born heifers for being too big, not realizing they are simply older.  A producer should consider the adoption of some quick visual tool such as notching ears of those early heifers. These are the heifers most likely to settle the first time and then rebreed on time are more likely to stay in the herd long enough to make a profit.



Oklahoma State University, U. S. Department of Agriculture, State and Local governments cooperating.  Oklahoma State University in compliance with Title VI and VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Executive Order 11246 as amended, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and other federal and state laws and regulations, does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, disability, or status as a veteran in any of its policies, practices, or procedures."

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