Better heifer breeding

John Barnhart knows time is money in today’s cattle business. That’s why the Vienna, Mo., cattleman values breeding technology like fixed-time artificial insemination (FTAI).

“Fixed-time AI gives us the opportunity to get in there and breed a lot of females in a hurry,” Barnhart says. “And, the labor savings is tremendous. It’s one of those things where we can go in and literally be done [breeding] in about two days.”

An AI program without estrus synchronization could take 20-25 days. “It certainly eliminates a lot of headaches,” Barnhart says, “and, really gives us an option to increase the genetic base for our cattle herd. Plus, it improves the quality of our cow herd. It’s just been a tremendous difference in our whole operation.”

Barnhart works closely with University of Missouri Extension beef specialist Professor Dave Patterson, as well as Genex Cooperative, in establishing the right fixed-time AI protocol for his operation.

Fixed-time AI protocols allow all cows in a herd to be bred in one day. Proven AI sires add quality, while timed breeding adds uniformity to the calf crop.

Cows and heifers call for different synchronization protocols. Traditionally, heifers cause more management problems by way of reduced fertility, increased dystocia, greater nutrient needs and longer post-partum intervals. However, a new 14-day protocol involving split-time AI works best for most heifers.

Research conducted by Patterson and MU graduate assistant Jordan Thomas examined the timing of gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH) administration with split-time AI (STAI) following controlled internal drug release (CIDR)-based protocols to synchronize estrus and ovulation in beef heifers and cows.

According to Patterson, postponing AI and GnRH administration for heifers that fail to show heat by 66 hours allows more time for ovulation before insemination and might also minimize fertility differences between bulls. The technique allows more heifers and cows to exhibit estrus before insemination, as determined by activation of an Estrotect heat detection aid, applied at prostaglandin.

Patterson says GnRH administered at AI is not necessary for heifers that express estrus prior to 66 hours.

GnRH administration can be done concurrently with AI at 90 hours for heifers that fail to express estrus. Patterson says it is likely that improvements in pregnancy rates are due primarily to expression of estrus during the 24-hour delay period.

“If you use STAI, it can essentially maximize the proportion of the females that show estrus prior to being inseminated, and you end up getting pregnancy rates that are very similar to estrus detection protocols,” Patterson says.

Compared to FTAI protocols, Patterson says pregnancy rates are about 5% higher with the STAI approach. “You also have the confidence of knowing what your estrus response actually is at the time of breeding,” he says.

And with no GnRH being administered to heifers that express estrus by breeding, the STAI approach actually offers a cost savings to producers.

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Burke Teichert: How to manage your way out of a hard-calving cowherd

Over 25 years ago, I moved to Nebraska as the general manager of the Rex Ranch. I had a lot of experience calvinglarge groups of first-calf heifers, so until the ranch became bigger and had several units, it was only natural for me to work with one other person to calve, feed and care for the heifers and their calves.

Even though we were calving groups as large as 500 head, my co-worker did most of the feeding and cattle care. I helped with sorting heavies into the calving pasture, pairing out and periodic checking for calving problems. We split the night checking in the middle of the night so that we could overlap each other in the daytime for the few jobs that required two people

The first year, we didn’t have many heifers, so the calving difficulty didn’t seem so oppressive. However, the percentage of assisted births was far too high—though that was too long ago for me to remember the exact numbers. We were trying to grow rapidly so the next year we calved a lot of heifers. This time we didn’t have to check the numbers to recognize that we were pulling too many calves. 

I don’t remember if I helped calve for a third year, but about that time, we started having some senior veterinary students come to the ranch for obstetrical rotations during our heifer calving. I stayed close to the heifer calving for a number of years.

Many of the calves born before due date, and well over half were, came with no problem. However, calves continued to be born, from the same sire, for another 7-10 days. Guess what? The picture changed. Each successive day we pulled a higher percentage of the calves born that day. We used the same sire on enough large groups to be sure of the pattern.

With this much experience and information, we started to ask some questions:

  • How can calves from the same bull have so much difference in gestation length?
  • Were our heifers too small at calving? You know I favor minimal development ofreplacement heifers.
  • Can we find a better calving ease bull with perhaps less variation in gestation length? What are the genetics for that?
  • What happens when you use a calving ease bull on first-calf heifers, but the cowherd has been bred to bulls for growth with much less, if any, attention paid to calving ease or birth weight? So what if the heifer you are now assisting was born to a cow that was born to a cow and so on— do you see the pattern? If a heifer was born to a cow with no calving ease genetics, can we expect any bull to be a complete calving ease bull when the heifer provides half of the calf’s genetic makeup and the entire prenatal environment?

I’d like to tell you that we found quick answers to each of these questions and fixed the problem quickly. We didn’t–it was slow. In my 18 years there, we reduced dystocia in heifers by more than 50%. I wanted it to be faster, but we were not using Wagyu or Corriente bulls to get easy calving. We wanted a level of performance, along with calving ease, using the breeds that were in our composite. My successors have cut dystocia in half again, and now pasture calve some heifers day and night without a night check.

There are a few answers:
  • You can breed to Wagyu or Corriente bulls if you have a good market for the calves and you wish to let the heifers calve with little or no checking.
  • You can continue to “minimally” develop your heifers and get calving ease.
  • We moved the calving season from late February and March to April. My successors have moved it to May. They seem to calve easier in a later calving season.
  • We also shortened the heifer breeding season to 30 days. When the gestational due date arrived for the last day of the breeding season, we induced all remaining heifers to get heifer calving season over and to let the calf do its growing on the outside of the cow.
  • We began to cull every cow that had a calving problem and any heifer that required anything more than a little assist—no calf puller.
  • We raised your own bulls. A bull for heifers had to be born unassisted to a first calf heifer and come from a sire with appropriate calving EPDs. We also had an upper limit for that bull calf’s birthweight.
  • When buying bulls, don’t look at the individual birth weight. An EPD is far more predictive of the performance of offspring than individual weights. You can also ignore or pay little attention to the birth weight EPD. While birth weight EPDs are closely correlated with calving ease, it is calving ease that you want; so look closely at the “calving ease direct” and “calving ease maternal” EPDs and keep them in balance if you are raising your own replacement heifers. You want calves that can be born unassisted and heifers that can calve unassisted.
  • There may be some antagonism between “calving ease direct” and “calving ease maternal,” so you will want to ensure that you don’t focus on just one of those traits. Also, remember that your cows are the mothers of your replacement heifers. Therefore, you want to ensure a reasonable level of calving ease in the sires used in your mature cowherd so that heifers can calve unassisted.

When I was younger, I would tell people I was calving or we would hear the question, “Are you calving?” For far too long, we did way too much of the calving.  I’m surely glad that I finally learned that we are not supposed to calve; the heifers are.

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1971 Ford F250

1971 Ford F250 Ranger XLT 360 cubic Inch w/4sp Manual Transmission $8,500 65,942 Original easy miles Tires – 99% tread AC – Equipped Interior – Red cloth bench seats (Original) Ex…

Source: 1971 Ford F250

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5 Tips for Actually Enjoying Business With Family and Friends

By Jake Johnson

If you’ve worked with loved ones, you know that there are many pluses: a strong sense of camaraderie, a high level of trust and a long relational history that makes having discussions with candor easier to name a few.

But there are lots of minuses too. Because a family business is both “head” and “heart,” as a PWC 2014 Family Business Survey calls it. Focusing on both building the business and keeping peace with a loved one can be hard.

I’ve worked with family and friends for nearly half of my professional career. My first real job out of university was working at my uncle’s commercial real estate firm. Later, when I was a freelance writer and editor, he was my client as well (talk about dicey!). I also founded a successful creative agency with three close friends. Along the way, I learned a few lessons about how to work—and not work—with family and friends.

  1. Find Space for Objectivity

One of the hardest parts of working with close friends and family is creating objective spaces in the business. A smart business owner knows how to divine what conversations and decisions he or she should handle personally versus delegating to another person in the business.

As a fresh college graduate, when I asked my uncle if he had any positions at his company, he was excited at the prospect of me joining his firm. But he left the interview process and hiring decisions to another manager on his team, who had a clear directive to NOT show favoritism.

Other conversations that require this level of objectivity include discussions on compensation, promotions and even disciplinary actions.

Don’t have a team member who can be the objective counterpart? Consider involving a third-party mediator who can lay initial ground rules and call somebody out if those rules are impinged.

  1. Create Clear Areas of Ownership

Clearly defining areas of ownership in the business is as important as articulating the ground rules of that ownership.

I know the importance of this firsthand. When I started my agency with three close friends as partners, we didn’t clearly articulate who owned what areas of the business. This resulted in unnecessary conflict and frustration.

The lack of ownership and ground rules resulted in no clear way to rectify and bring closure to disagreements. So they often simmered in a stew of misunderstanding and assumption. Yuck!

Ultimately, this lack of clear ownership resulted in the dissolution of the partnership in an effort to preserve friendship. In hindsight, we would have been wise to do the hard work of defining roles and rules ahead of time.

  1. Utilize Indirect Management

I worked for my uncle for more than five years. Until the last year, I was managed by other leaders in the business. Not surprisingly, the last year was the most challenging.

Being managed by others allowed for mitigation both of accusations of favoritism and for drawing clear lines between business and family. It was only as I worked closer and closer with my uncle that comments like “heir apparent” started casually floating around. The personal difficulty in knowing how to relate to my uncle as both family and my boss grew immensely.

The closer one works with family members, the more opportunity there is for uncomfortable situations to arise. Creating indirect management avenues within the business allows for some distance between family and friends and greatly helps to mitigate these cases.

  1. Leave Shop Talk at the Office

This one is hard. When you spend so much time and energy building a business with loved ones, conversations outside the office naturally slide into shop talk. While it’s occasionally okay to dabble in business conversations outside the office, it’s important to intentionally limit them—especially during large family gatherings and the holidays. No one wants to hear you talk shop over Thanksgiving dinner!

Two important benefits come from this.

First, it recognizes that the relationship is richer than just a business one. The strength of family and friendship is a true bond created over a lifetime of shared interests, successes, struggles and joys. Continually talking about work quickly sucks the joy out of a relationship.

Second, it gives your other family members a break. Believe it or not, your spouse, your children and others close to you don’t care about your business like you do, and they don’t care to hear about it all the time. Both in friendship and family, your bonds extend beyond yourself. Respecting others in your circle includes limiting your business conversations outside the office. Everyone, including you, will be happier for it.

  1. Make Purpose the Boss

One friend of mine, who works in a family business, laments that his more-traditional father often stymies his fresh ideas for marketing and growing the business. With ideas continually shot down, he’s resorted to “waiting it out” until the business finally passes to him in order to run it the way he wants to.

These types of conflict are a direct result of not having a clearly articulated purpose for the business. In a purpose vacuum, those with the most authority often feel threatened by new ideas that diminish their impact and authority. But when those in power exercise that power in service of a shared purpose, every idea is evaluated on whether it furthers the purpose or not. This is the essence of making purpose the boss, to borrow a phrase from my friends at the executive coaching firm Conversant.

By making purpose the boss, you create an environment in which different ideas can flourish no matter who brings them to the table. You are appealing to how they could impact the purpose rather than to subjective opinions on the ideas themselves.

 

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Just How Bad Did the Replacement Heifer Market Crash?

As America’s cow herd dropped to 60-year lows two years ago, ranchers saw an economic incentive to save and breed replacement heifers. Demand for the young females spiked, creating a profitable niche market which now appears to have flamed out.

Heifer prices were strong throughout 2013 and 2014 as the U.S. cowherd rebuilt and prices rose. Profits were high for those who capitalized on developing breeding heifers during the market rally. Now, developing heifers isn’t as attractive to those who bought high-priced heifer calves in the spring with hopes of selling higher-priced bred cattle in the fall.

The past year saw bred and open heifer markets go through a downward spiral. It followed similar beef market trends witnessed throughout 2015 heading into 2016, as fat cattle and calf prices retreated to prices last seen in 2013.

Video Volatility

Video auctions provided an example of the volatility of  selling replacements. In October 2013, for instance, Superior Livestock Auction held its first replacement female sale. Bred heifers topped out at $2,125 for the inaugural sale where 9,000 head of breeding stock were offered, including cows, pairs and open heifers.

Demand was strong and prices for bred heifers continued to rise at the Select Female Auction. The market high reached $3,250 at both the September and November sales in 2014.

At the latest female video auction on Dec. 18 bred heifers sold from $1,450 to $2,125 per head, and open replacements went on the block at $1,175 to $1,325. In 2014, the same auction had much better numbers, with the price floor being higher than 2015’s ceiling. Bred heifers sold for $2,175 to $3,000 in 2014, with replacements going for $2,050 to $2,250.

 

“I think the decline was a combination of the lower cattle prices combined with an oversupply of heifers,” says Danny Jones, president of Superior Livestock.

Jones estimates the bred heifer price would have fallen at least $200 even if the feeder calf price had maintained at the $225/cwt. level. He adds it was a good idea to develop heifers. The only problem: “everybody had the same idea.”

Andrew Griffith, economist with University of Tennessee, observed more producers in his area holding back or buying heifers which should have probably gone to the feedlot.

“I guess they thought we needed to grow the cattle herd all over night, and they threw out the window that we need high-quality heifers,” Griffith says. “Those low-quality heifers should be on your dinner plate.”

U.S. Department of Agriculture data indicates replacement heifer retention has been on the rise for at least the past two years. Both in 2011 and 2012 (no data was available from 2013) the replacement heifer herd was at 4.2 million head. Then in 2014 it jumped 400,000 head to 4.6 million. Last year retention rates improved 7 percent with 4.9 million total beef replacement heifers.

Established Sales Not Immune

In the fescue covered pastures of Kentucky, a group of like-minded cattlemen gathered their resources the last 12 years to develop replacement heifers.

Quality heifers bred to calving ease bulls and cared for with a preset vaccination program has helped build business for Central Kentucky Premier Heifer Sale (CKPHS). Even when the cattle market started to trend downward in the spring, CKPHS’s June 2015 auction averaged $2,965 for fall-calving heifers.

“It sure has been a different cycle here for us,” says David Sandusky, a Lebanon, Ky. farmer and chairman for CKPHS. “We’ve seen a huge decrease in price and demand for these heifers.”

The latest CKPHS auction in November for spring calving heifers saw prices drop more than $750 per heifer, an average of $2,201.

“We still have about 500 heifers that we don’t have a home for. Demand is very depressed,” Sandusky adds.

Another established heifer sale has seen similar price fluctuation. November’s Show-Me-Select Program hosted by University of Missouri Extension saw prices dip after reaching records in 2014. At this fall’s auction bred heifers sold for $2,477. The sale at the Joplin Regional Stockyards was down an average of $412 per head compared to 2014.

The Show-Me-Select heifer sales saw softer prices in 2015 after a record year for the various auctions across Missouri. Photo by University of Missouri Extension

Two months later Joplin Regional Stockyards (JRS) hosted their own female sale on Jan. 14 with most of the cattle originating from local farms. Approximately 500 bred heifers sold from $1,400 to $2,000, with the majority of those females slated to calve in February and March. Cattle went to neighboring states, like Oklahoma and Arkansas, which are still rebuilding from drought.

JRS co-owner Jackie Moore notes the amount of cattle walking through the ring wasn’t as high as he would expect. “I think a lot of those people have quite a bit of money tied up in those heifers.”

Moore believes many bred heifers will be calved this spring and sold as pairs.

Another popular marketing option might be to hold those females back for a second breeding. Joplin’s latest female sale saw second-alf heifers bring $2,000 to $2,400.

The participating producers of CKPHS have similar plans with the 500 head of remaining spring bred heifers. The surplus heifers will be calved out and rebred to sell next year as three-year-olds.

“There are lots of people who have bred heifers of various quality,” Sandusky says. “I think that’s part of the problem. There were a ton of heifers that were bred and they weren’t all what we would consider cow quality.”

Long-term, Sandusky believes the market drop will remove some of the one-time people out of the bred heifer market who jumped in to make a quick profit.

“We hope that reputation gets out there that we’re not one-time players. We’re not a flash in the pan. We’re here for the long haul,” Sandusky says of the 12-year program.

Recycled Cattle Cycle

The influx of cheap replacement heifers has created a buyers’ market. Creating an opportunity to buy bred heifers at a reduced rate to expand or start a cow herd. It is also a case of the markets working in a cyclical nature.

“Periodically, the market reminds you that what goes up must go down,” says Stephen Koontz, economist with Colorado State University Extension.

Superior Livestock’s recent December sale was down 21.6% for market-high heifers compared to the April auction. CKPHS had an even more dramatic drop of 25.8% in five months between sales.

“The folks that were buying open heifers and selling them as bred heifers a few months later made really good money when that market was rallying. Now that it’s turned the corner it won’t be the case,” Koontz says. “I think that strategy is out the window for the next couple of years.”

Producers are seeing a traditional cattle cycle, says Lance Zimmerman, an analyst with CattleFax.

The highs for the cycle were reached in late 2014 or early 2015. Prices for calves dropped $550 per head from the fall 2014 to fall 2015.

This bred heifer went through the Central Kentucky Premier Heifer Sales program and would have sold when demand for females was at an all time high.Photo by Wyatt Bechtel

“A good rule-of-thumb as an industry is your bred female cost during expansion era peak is likely to be 1.5 to 1.7 times the value of your calves,” Zimmerman says. “Producers are just bidding appropriately now with that price depreciation into the value they’re willing to pay for bred females.”

Profitability for those producers developing heifers primarily depended on the price cattle were bought at prior to breeding.

“The buy side is so incredibly important to the cost of that bred female because that is the biggest cost you’re likely going to have in developing that heifer,” Zimmerman says.

Prices for a 550 lb. weaned calf at the end of 2015 were around $180/cwt. The cow would then be worth $1,500 to $1,650.

At end of 2014 prices were near $280/cwt. for weaned calves. A bred cow was worth $2,300 to $2,500.

“You’re talking about a market that basically gave up $900 per head based on what we’re implying with calf values,” Zimmerman says.

Despite those losses, Zimmerman expects to see cow herd expansion continue into 2018.

“We’re likely to return this beef cow herd back to 31-32 million head as we get to the peak of the expansion,” Zimmerman says.

2015 (and Maybe 2016) Better Than 2013

Beef producers don’t have to look too far in the rearview mirror to witness a lower market year in 2013.

USDA calculates choice steers averaged $148.12/cwt. in 2015. This year prices are projected to drop to $132.14/cwt. For 2013, the final fat cattle average price was only $125.89/cwt.

“We’ve gone from this period of record prices for 18 months to a pretty sharp drop in prices in the fourth quarter of 2015. We’re kind of getting back to where things used to be,” says John Nalivka, president of Sterling Marketing, Inc., Vale, Ore.

Heifer prices two years ago for the Show-Me-Select sale at Joplin were $350 behind 2015, averaging $2,127 in 2013.

When this bred heifer sold through the Central Kentucky Premier Heifer Sales program prices had dropped 25.8% in five months. Photo by Wyatt Bechtel

“It looks to me that we’re going to stay above 2013, but 2014 and 2015 are behind us and we’re not going back (to those prices),” Nalivka adds.

Cow-calf profitably as calculated by Sterling Marketing was $243.05 per cow in 2013. Profits for 2015 were $429 per cow, $97 less than the year prior. Cow-calf margins are projected to drop in 2016 to $237 per cow.

“The thing I think we can count on is herd expansion will bring more calves this year, increased production and lower prices. It has been a while since we’ve had that, but that is what’s coming,” Koontz says.

Koontz believes that downward trend will continue for quite some time until calf prices discourage producers from holding back more replacement heifers.

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High Dollar Bulls Build Better Heifers

Mike Mutch uses bulls worth six figures on his beef farm near Silk Hope, N.C. That may not be unheard of in the cattle industry, but for a part-time producer with 38 cows, it’s a definite point of pride. What makes it possible? Artificial insemination (AI). The technology allows producers like Mutch to tap into the country’s best beef genetics. He credits it for his top-notch Angus cow herd, built over the past 15 years.

Mutch has a unique business plan. He AIs commercial Angus cows with semen from top sires. He then breeds heifers from the cross and keeps the young females for one or two calves. After that, he sells proven three- to four-year-old cows to other cattlemen building herds.

“I’m focused on the replacement female market. A lot of cattlemen don’t want to deal with calving heifers, and I can sell them — proven young cows that have raised outstanding calves,” says Mutch.

GENDER-SORTED SEMEN

To maximize production of females, Mutch uses gender-sorted semen. Sorted semen costs approximately twice as much as regular semen from the same sire, and the straws contain smaller quantities.

Gender-sorted semen helps a producer like Mutch produce higher percentages of female offspring. It can also work for a higher percentage of males — in the case of a producer looking to produce bulls or more steers for the feedlot, for instance. While not perfect, the gender-sorted, or sexed, semen has a success rate of 58%, says Mutch’s veterinarian, Richard Kirkman, of Siler City, N.C. Kirkman AIs Mutch’s herd.

BEST GENETICS AT A BARGAIN

Using AI, a producer could pick the best 2% of all bulls in a breed to sire the next generation of calves. That’s one of the huge advantages the technology offers the industry.

“There’s no way commercial producers can afford to buy that kind of sire for their cow herds,” says veterinarian Dee Whittier, a bovine specialist at Virginia Tech. “You may also inject genetics from another breed into your herd, without buying bulls from that breed.”

Whittier has a set of costs-versus-benefits that help producers considering using AI on commercial herds. He says based on a 100-cow herd, AI costs are approximately $49.50 per cow. These costs include drugs used to synchronize estrus in cows to prepare them for breeding, the cost of AI semen, and the cost of AI technicians and labor to bring cows through the chute three times.

He adds that semen companies often give volume discounts, so commercial producers can purchase semen from proven bulls with solid Expected Progeny Differences (EPDs) for less than $20 per straw.

“My philosophy for breeding commercial cattle is that you don’t chase the newest and hottest bulls with the highest semen costs,” Whittier says. “You can economize on semen and still get very good, proven bulls.”

In addition, thanks to synchronization, research shows a 100-cow herd bred using AI produces an average of three more calves, compared to a natural service herd.

NET MORE PER COW

Virginia cattleman Terry Slusher says he estimates the return on AI with his commercial beef herd at approximately $177 more per cow/calf pair. Based near Floyd, he says he pencils that out this way: Synchronized breeding on 160 cows means 89% of Slusher’s calves are born the first 30 days of his calving season. These early-born calves gain approximately 2 pounds per day and are heavier at weaning than calves born later in the season. With retained ownership of steers, he says AI steers are worth more at harvest due to heavier hot carcass weights and a higher percentage of Choice or better quality grades.

Over the last year, the “return to cow” for AI-sired calves was $177 more than for calves sired by natural service, says Slusher. AI-sired steers averaged 38.6 pounds heavier on hot carcass weight. Slusher’s AI conception rate is 68% (over a five-year period). He notes the conception rates improve as cows become conditioned to AI protocols.

“I can’t imagine anyone being a full-time cattle farmer and not using AI,” says Slusher. “AI breeding is a lot of work, but it pays off when you see calves sired by top bulls.”

AI School Payoff. When Brian Melloan took over Channarock Farms from his father-in-law, Charlie Jones, in 2014, the 38-year-old cattleman from Rockfield, Ky., headed straight for the AI School at Mississippi State University.

Channarock Farms has long been on the cutting edge for Beefmaster seedstock, and Melloan knew he wanted to use AI to freshen up the herd’s genetics. He used semen from the country’s top Beefmaster bulls.

The move was not without precedent. Jones had also relied on AI to build the Beefmaster herd on the family’s western Kentucky ranch.

“I see AI as one of the key tools to keep us marching forward in the cattle business,” says Melloan. “AI gives us the ability to use the best bulls of the breed to build up carcass quality and weight gains in our cattle.”

Using the techniques and practices he learned at AI School, Melloan bred 175 cows from late 2014 to early 2015. His success rate was an outstanding 75%. He’s looking forward to selling AI-sired bulls to commercial producers.

“The commercial cattleman is our No. 1 customer,” says Melloan. “As producers restock herds, they want Beefmaster bulls that will put more pounds on calves at weaning and also have the genetics for carcass characteristics feedlot buyers are looking for.”

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More tools for selecting replacements for older heifers

Two key factors to a heifer being “successful” and remaining in the cowherd are 1) she becomes pregnant in the first breeding season and 2) she calves unassisted and rebreeds quickly.

By performing a breeding soundness exam (BSE) on heifers prior to breeding, producers can eliminate these factors as potential stumbling blocks and improve reproductive efficiency. A BSE of replacement heifers should include body weight, days of age, reproductive tract scores, and, if desired, pelvic area data.

The timing of a BSE will depend largely on nutrition, breeding and marketing plans for specific herds. By conducting the exam at least six weeks prior to breeding, producers have a chance to correct low body weights, but it offers less certainty about the percentage of heifers that are cycling at the start of the breeding season.

Performing the exams just prior to breeding gives greater certainty about the percentage of heifers that are cycling, but it doesn’t allow producers a chance to correct any potential weight issues.

Reproductive tract scoring is a method of evaluating reproductive tract maturity and cyclicity in pubertal heifers. In order to determine if a heifer is cycling, the reproductive tract is palpated to determine the presence of the corpus luterum or large follicles in the ovaries and to estimate the size of the uterus.

Based on these characteristics, heifers are assigned a reproductive tract score (RTS) of 1-5, with a higher RTS being more desirable.

Determining the RTS of heifers allows producers to select those that have good reproductive potential ,and cull others with poor reproductive potential. This evaluation also allows producers to identify and remove freemartins, immature heifers, heifers without a complete reproductive tract or any heifers that are already pregnant.

Calving difficulty or dystocia increases calf death loss, cow mortality, labor, veterinary costs, delays the cow’s return to estrus and decreases rebreeding efficiency. It can also lead to decreased weaning weights due to breeding heifers and cows to calving ease low birth-weight bulls.

According to Gene H. Deutscher, University of Nebraska Extension Beef Specialist, calving difficulty results in an estimated economic loss of $750 million annually nationwide.

Since a major cause of dystocia is a disproportion between calf size at birth and cow pelvic area, by conducting a BSE on heifers and collecting pelvic measurement data, producers can reduce the occurrence of dystocia in their herds.

Pelvic area is measured in square centimeters (cm2) by multiplying the width of the pelvis by the height of the pelvis. That number is then divided by a conversion factor, determined by heifer age and weight, to estimate the weight of a calf that a heifer should be able to deliver without difficulty.

For example, if estimating the deliverable calf birth weight of a 12-month-old that weighs 700 pounds:

  • Measured pelvic height = 14 cm
  • Measured pelvic width = 12 cm
  • Calculated pelvic area = 14 cm x 12 cm = 168 cm2
  • Conversion factor = 2.2
  • Estimated deliverable calf weight = 168 ÷ 2.2 = 76 pounds

Bigger heifers don’t always have the largest pelvic areas, and heifers of the same size can have drastically different pelvic areas. By pelvic measuring, producers can eliminate heifers that have proportionally small pelvic areas and eliminate any heifers that may have abnormally shaped pelvises.

Since pelvic area measurements are correlated to mature cows size and calf birth weight, it is a good idea to use this tool to set a minimum pelvic size as a culling criteria (ex. 140 cm2) rather than selecting heifers that have the largest pelvic area.

Conducting a BSE on heifers can help producers eliminate several potential problems and select heifers that have good reproductive potential. For those that wish to know more about reproductive tract scoring, pelvic measuring, or want the table containing the conversion factors, check out the Breeding Soundness Examination for Replacement Heifers publication under the Crops and Livestock tab on our website or give me a call.

For more information, contact the Marais des Cygnes Extension District Offices in Paola, 913-294-4306, and Mound City, 913-795-2829.

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