heat indicator strips

Breeding indicator being applied to the back of a cow while she is in a handling chute.

The spring breeding season is almost here, and that means it is time to review the various tools beef producers have at their disposal in terms of reproductive efficiency. There are many such tools available, but they are used for only a minority of the beef herds in the U.S.

According to the USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System, the following percentages apply to the various technologies that are available for reproductive efficiencies:

  • 19.5 percent of operators take advantage of semen evaluation
  • 18 percent palpate for pregnancies
  • 14.3 percent body condition score
  • 7.9 percent use estrus synchronization
  • 7.6 percent use artificial insemination (AI)

They also report that reproductive inefficiency in the nation’s cattle herds accounts for losses ranging from $600 million to $1.2 billion each year. Producers give a variety of reasons for not using these reproductive tools. Those reasons include – lack of time and labor, costs involved, and that the technology is too difficult or complicated to use.

The following are three ways to start using some of that technology and increase your herd’s reproductive efficiency for the upcoming breeding season:

Detect heats and make smart decisions

Producers are finding some of these new tools are fairly easy to use. Ky Pohler, assistant professor of beef cattle production at Texas A&M University, said, “Many technologies on the market today are simple to use and effective. One example is a breeding indicator, a self-adhesive patch many producers use primarily for heat detection.

“Some breeding indicators have an easy-to-read bullseye on them. Once the bullseye, or the equivalent surface area, is rubbed off the animal – that animal is ready to breed and is up to three times more likely to result in a confirmed pregnancy,” he added.

The odds of a successful pregnancy is lower if an indicator isn’t fully activated. Using that information, a smart cow-side decision can be made, such as choosing an inexpensive straw of semen, saving the more expensive semen or sexed semen to bred the cows with heat indicators and a stronger sign of standing heat.

Diagnose pregnancies

Breeding indicators can also be a part of pregnancy diagnosis, Pohler noted.

“The majority of beef females in the United States never undergo a pregnancy diagnosis,” he said. “Herds that don’t use pregnancy diagnosis are taking a gamble. The wait-and-see strategy can be a costly one if a cow isn’t pregnant and is consuming feed and resources for the duration of her thought-to-be pregnancy.”

Breeding indicators can also be used as a pregnancy diagnosis tool. If a cow has been cycling but doesn’t come back into heat, based on the visual check of her breeding indicator, then the cow is more likely pregnant.

Confirmed pregnancy allows the producer to make an informed decision abut the cow’s future in the herd. A non-pregnant cow detected early in the breeding season might transition to another round of breeding or she may be removed from the herd.

“The value of a pregnancy diagnosis can’t be understated,” Pohler said. “It has the power to significantly increase the reproductive efficiency.”

Get management basics right

In order to be successful, increased reproductive efficiency must work hand-in-hand with other herd management practices.

“If you’re going to use a reproductive technology, but your cows are in poor body condition, you can’t overcome that,” Pohler said. “If nutrition is bad, no technology will give you the results you desire.

“It sounds simple, but vaccination plans, disease management protocols and biosecurity need to be adopted and practiced. If you don’t have these in place, you might end up with only a 50 percent calf crop due to mid-to-late term abortions or other disease-related issues, a huge loss that could have been avoided,” he added.

To achieve higher breeding efficiency in your herd you have to think about it more than once or twice a year during breeding season and calving time, he pointed out.

“Reproductive efficiency improves when you have a bigger-picture focus, preparing animals year-round for breeding, calving, breeding back and repeating the cycle,” he said. “Ultimately, you have to find technologies and management practices that work for you.”

For more information on breeding indicators, visit the ESTROTECH.com website.