On April 29, as a part of Montana State University’s Beef Extension Spring Series, Dr. Casey Solomon, DVM of Milk River Genetics, discussed the importance of reproductive momentum in a cattle herd. During her talk, Solomon looked at some things producers can do to gain and/or maintain reproductive momentum. As both a veterinarian and producer herself, Solomon has a great appreciation for reproductive momentum and how it directly relates to time.
“I think I am preaching to the choir here when I say our greatest asset, all of us, is time. And we don’t ever have enough of it. I wanted to talk about reproductive momentum because I feel that is one of the biggest drivers to success on an operation and also one of the biggest ways to save time throughout the year,” she said to open her presentation.
Maximizing reproductive efficiency on an operation can directly equate to a producer having more time, and nothing eats up a rancher’s spring schedule like late-calvers. As the biggest killers to reproductive momentum, Solomon says identifying and managing late-calving cows is crucial to getting a herd’s reproductive efficiency back on track.
She recommends identifying late-bred cows as early as possible through an ultrasound either later in the summer or early in the fall. If a producer chooses to expel late-bred cows from their herd, Solomon suggests looking for ways to add value to them. She also challenges producers to weigh the timing of pregnancy diagnose with the current value of the market.
“If you feel you are going to sell your late cows, you may want to look at doing your pregnancy exams earlier in the fall because those cows will hold a lot more value in the market,” she added.
Late-bred cows can be moved up a calving interval, Solomon said. To do so, she advises putting them through a seven-day CIDR synchronization program before kicking them out with a bull. Each operation is different, so whether one choses to sell late-bred cows or move them up an interval is strictly situational. Nevertheless, the goal is to achieve a tighter calving period.
Also important to gaining and maintaining reproductive momentum in a herd is taking advantage of genetics by using pedigrees that are best suited for the environment in which the cattle must perform in.
“Cattle need to be able to do their job on our ranch,” Solomon said.
During her talk, she said it is important to identify ranch goals and select replacement heifers accordingly. Let Mother Nature be the number one selection driver and don’t get caught up in “fads” or industry trends. Each ranch and environment is different and replacement heifer selection and management should be treated uniquely, as well.
Reproductive technologies such as AI and embryo transfer are also great tools to help reproductive momentum. AI can sync up cattle for a tighter calving interval and more uniform calf crop, while embryo transfer is a great way to maximize the utilization of cattle in the herd that are less than ideal.
Solomon was quick to point out that reproductive technologies can be very helpful to an operation, but they are more labor- and time-intensive up front and they are also more costly. So, she says, really evaluate you individual herd reproductive goals before deciding to use them.
In addition to some of these management tools, Solomon says that, unequivocally, the most important component to reproductive momentum is nutrition, starting with a solid mineral package.
“The mineral pack that you select needs to be balanced with your forages and water and you need to test them annually so you can get everything lined out,” she said.
Keeping cattle on a positive plane of nutrition prior to breeding and maintaining body condition scores throughout the year using minerals and protein supplement when needed is the most basic thing a producer can do to maintain herd efficiency.
In closing, Solomon emphasized the fact all of her suggestions can be utilized as a part of a program that will continually build upon itself year after year. Most reproductive problems may take years to correct, so be patient. And remember, she said, the hope is that all the planning and hard work that goes into your herd throughout the year will equate to a more efficient calving season.