Farm Credit
Jan 07 2017

Preparing to breed for fall calves

It is the beginning of a new year, which means it’s time to prepare for breeding fall calves. Breeding soundness exams for your bulls, replacing your old cows with new heifers, and supplementing your breeding stock for optimal nutrition all should be considered before breeding your first cow for fall.

Breeding soundness exams for your stock can help ensure successful breeding. These exams should be performed 30 to 60 days before you plan on breeding. Breeding soundness exams should thoroughly examine the feet, leg structure, general health, and, the key to factoring fertility of a bull, the scrotal circumference. Semen samples should also be evaluated for its concentration of sperm cells, the motility of the sperm cells, and also the morphology, shape, of sperm cells. Keep in mind that animals who meet physical standards can still have poor quantity and quality semen. It is also in your best interest to have bulls tested for Trichomoniasis, or trich disease. This disease typically results in an aborted pregnancy in the first 4 months of the pregnancy. Mucus should be collected from the deepest portion of the sheath to test for any living trichomonads. Mucus samples should be observed for 3-7 days. Any bulls testing positive for trich should immediately be culled from the herd and bulls with poor health or fertility should also be replaced with new bulls to ensure maximum coverage of your herd.

Along with replacing bulls with poor fertility, it is equally important to examine heifers and decide which need to be replaced. To select your cull and replacement heifers, you can follow the following steps:

  • First, narrow down the pool of potential heifers by weeding out the daughters of problematic cows, or cows that typically need help calving or were late at calving.
  • Continue to narrow down by taking out heifers that are lightweights; make sure to take both age and breed into consideration when deciding which heifers to cull based on weight.
  • With the remaining heifers, select the ones that were born early in the calving season, ideally within the first 45 days. Additionally, the most genetically promising heifers are typically the daughters of the oldest cows, as cows that have longevity have been associated with better heifer pregnancy rates.

Proper nutrients are key to both a healthy calf and mother. A combination of protein supplements, and minerals such as zinc, copper, selenium, and manganese are important to the health of the cow and calf throughout breeding and gestation. Some producers choose to limit the protein intake of a cow, which can lead to a smaller calf and an easier birth; however, these calves and mothers are typically weaker after the process, so it is recommended to continue typical, if not increased, protein intake. To receive the most benefits from mineral and protein supplements, begin giving them supplements early before the stress of breeding is introduced to the cow. This will help insure the success of both mother and calf.

The first of the year is an important time to begin focusing on breeding fall calves. With breeding soundness exams allowing you to pinpoint the best bulls, a few tips on selecting replacement heifers, and monitoring a cow’s nutrients intake earlier, you can help your herd reach its full potential.

For more information on how to maximize your fall calf breeding season, you can check out the following resources:
aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_b/B216/welcome.html
angusbeefbulletin.com/extra/2011/04apr11/0411mg_replacement-heifers.html
beefmagazine.com/mag/beef_precalving_nutrition
Multimin Health