Beef Cattle Management: The Breeding Season

Let's talk beef cattle reproductive management! Of all the things that go into raising beef (genetics, nutrition, pasture management, animal handling, and so much more), reproductive management is one of my favorites! I could talk about it all day, but for now I'll just focus on one component of it: the breeding season.

In order for cattlemen to be successful, each of their cows need to raise one calf per year. Some ranchers use natural breeding for their herd (selecting bulls with the right genetics for their goals, and keeping their bulls with the cows during the breeding season each year). Others opt for using artificial insemination (A.I.). This method is more of the standard for dairy cattle, but when it comes to beef cattle, it just depends on whether or not it's practical for that operation.

A.I. can be a huge advantage because it gives producers an opportunity to use high quality genetics from top-notch bulls, at a lower cost. It also gives them the option to cross those genetics with as many cows as they want in one single breeding season, whereas naturally, one bull can only be responsible for breeding about 25-30 cows in one season. There is also a third option: embryo transfer. This allows genetics from both high quality sires and high quality damns to be used in cows best suited for that environment. This also allows for any epigenetic advantages the calf would get from that cow. This method is not as common, though, as it's much more expensive, and the success rate is low compared to that of natural service, or even A.I.

Here at Riverbend, I don't use A.I. or E.T., because both of those methods are very labor intensive (they require handling the cows multiple times, and spending a lot of time watching those cows to detect if they're in heat). On an operation with many people to lend a helping hand, it's not as difficult, but for me, it's just not feasible. Therefore, my program relies 100% on a bull. The breeding season I use for my cows is February through April. The cow's gestation period is about 9.5 months, so my calving season will be from November-January. By using a controlled breeding season and knowing when the calving season will be each year, ranchers can optimize herd management. It allows for calves to be worked all at one time each year (worked, meaning vaccinated, castrated, or any other health treatments that need to be done). In order to get to the calves and do these things, the entire cow herd needs to be penned. That process can be stressful on the cows and the calves, so when you have a controlled calving season, you can get it all over with at once, instead of having to put the herd in the pens multiple times throughout the year.

So, that's one of the benefits of a good breeding season, but what ensures a good breeding season? Well, making sure the cow gets pregnant is the main thing! But it's not as cut and dry as you may think- nutrition, environment, herd health, bull soundness, breeding methods, and many other things play a role. For that reason, many producers check to make sure their cows are pregnant. This way we can make sure we aren't feeding or spending money on cows that aren't going to produce a calf. Of course, there can be exceptions. Certain circumstances might explain why a cow didn't get bred, and would warrant feeding her through the winter if she's likely to have a healthy calf the next go-around. By preg. checking, we can get a good idea of what's going on in the herd, and manage from there. I'll be sure to bring y'all along throughout the year, so you can see all the other things that play a role in breeding management!