Ohio Farmer

Breeding season: Know performance and history; cull when necessary

University Insight: Use this breeding season to make improvements to the genetics of your herd.

May 28, 2024

3 Min Read
Two people artificially inseminating a beef cow
AI: A cow is artificial inseminated at Eastern Agricultural Research Station in Caldwell. Ohio. OSUE

by Garth Ruff

Pastures are in their prime, and for many spring-calving cow herds, breeding season is either here — or soon to be here.

As we progress through this cow breeding season, there are several economic drivers to consider when we evaluate reproduction within the beef herd:

Monitor cow performance. The start of breeding season is a good time to monitor cow production. Recording body condition scores (BCS) at breeding is an indicator of cow performance. If a cow is struggling to maintain body condition, is it because she is heavily lactating and nursing an above-average-weight calf, or are there underlying factors to consider?

Make note of cows with smaller-than-average calves. Whether late calving, or a lack of nutrition and milk, the poorest performers of the herd can often be identified at this time. Don’t be surprised if they are also the cows that are later breeding or open at the pregnancy check.

Pregnancy checking. Consider checking for pregnancy early, especially if using fixed-timed artificial insemination to breed your herd or at least a portion of it. If utilizing AI to breed cows, we can detect pregnancy as soon as 28 days post-breeding using either a blood test or by having a technician ultrasound those inseminated females.

Knowing whether a cow is bred early in the breeding season allows for timely decision-making. One option would be to group all the “open” cows together for the remainder of the breeding period. By doing so, cows will already be sorted into calving groups based on who should calve early versus later.

If you’re not pregnancy checking early, a later pregnancy check 30 days after the conclusion of the breeding season should identify open cows, which should be up for a culling decision.

Timely culling. We all have heard by now that the U.S. cow herd is the smallest it has been since 1960. The cattle markets are still historically high, including cull cows. Cull cows and bulls can be responsible for up to 25% of the revenue generated by a commercial beef operation. Once open females are identified, a decision has to be made: Do you give the female a second chance? Or do you send them to town and collect a check?

With many cull cows selling for north of a dollar per pound locally, that open heifer or cow had better have outstanding genetics or some reason to justify not culling her from the herd. Keeping open cows are a profit drain. Not only do you not have a calf to market, but there also is expense in keeping her for the next year.

Records and facilities. All of the above is contingent on good production records and the ability to effectively handle cows. Knowing a calving date, breeding date and previous cow performance hinges upon good record-keeping.

To know if a cow is in the bottom x% of weaning weight, that we have determined is a performance threshold, an accurate set of scales is a must. Weaning is another opportune time to record observations such as BCS, udder confirmation, and feet or claw scores.

Use this breeding season to make improvements to the genetics of your herd while making timely cow management decisions that can have a positive impact on the economic standing the beef enterprise.

Ruff is a beef cattle and livestock marketing field specialist for OSU Extension.

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