5 ways to optimize reproductive success in cattle.

Pretty weighty title, huh?
Especially coming from someone like myself.
But honestly - the five items below are basic steps that every cattle rancher can utilize to optimize reproductive success in their cattle herd.
Because if a cow doesn't breed back and subsequently have a calf - she isn't putting forth her effort into the ranching operation.  But part of that equation is that we have to help put those cattle in the best position to breed back.
Nutrition matters.

Sometimes we say that in order to be an expert in bovine reproduction, you first need to be an expert in cattle nutrition.  And that's because cattle use the nutrition they're fed in the following priority order:

1. Maintenance 
 The feed they eat goes to maintain their own body condition.
2. Milking
If the heifer or cow you're trying to breed has a calf at side, their next order of priority is to make milk for their calf.
3. Reproduction
This is the third priority for a cow, and if they're not accomplishing the first two priorities with what you're feeding them, they're not going to start cycling and you're not going to get cattle bred back quickly.  It's really important for cattle to be on a positive plane of nutrition that you can allow a cow to cycle, and ultimately - conceive.
Growth is going to be a factor in first calf heifers (and potentially young cows) as well.  Not only are they trying to maintain the body weight and condition they have, but they're still growing themselves AND trying to raise a calf. 
You really have to be on the ball with proper nutrition to get them to breed back within your breeding season.  This is also why it's recommended to breed your heifers to calve earlier than your cows....the extra days they get between calving and when you pull the bulls can mean the difference between them breeding back or not.
What you did 45 days ago matters.
Cattle need to be on an upward plane of nutrition 45 days prior to breeding, and then they need to remain on a positive plane through the breeding season.
The reason?
It takes 45 days for the egg we're trying to fertilize to be created & developed in the ovaries, and if cattle aren't being fed for that, your breeding won't be as successful.  You can't just put cattle on good feed when the CIDR goes in, or when the bulls get turned out - if you're doing that, you're already behind the 8 ball.
Calving and pre-breeding is the worst time to cheat a cow.  But the good news is that the economic investment you make in a cow through proper nutrition & maintenance during this time period can also be the best return on your dollar.
Slower is faster.
We say this all of the time.
And it's because stress doesn't help you optimize reproductive success.
When cattle are stressed, they release cortisol.  And cortisol kills sperm.
So the slower and calmer you can work cattle, the more reproductive success you will have.  Slower & calmer will lead to faster & better conception.  This is especially true if you are synchronizing cattle and/or using AI with your cattle.  Because of the increased handling that comes with these two strategies, the calmer you can work cattle will help you over the long run.
Breed cattle to reduce dystocia.
The uterus & reproductive tract of a cow takes about 45 days to go through involution and preparations for breeding.  Involution is basically the process of the uterus shrinking back to it's "normal" size after calving.  Cows that have trouble calving (dystocia) will take even longer to go through involution, because not only does the uterus need to accomplish it's basic job of shrinking, but it also has the additional job of repairing any damage that occurred during calving.
This is where the power of selective genetics and AI can help.
If you use bulls with proven calving ease factors (EPD's, head & shoulder shape, birthweight, etc.) you can greatly reduce the amount of dystocia you experience with your cows.  A cow who calves without complications doesn't have the additional stress placed on her reproductive tract during calving, and so involution happens on a more desirable time schedule.
This is the beauty of AI -
You can breed a whole host of cattle to bulls with proven and reliable calving ease factors utilizing AI.   Not only should those cattle calve easier, which means less work for you at calving time - but assuming proper nutrition, they should also breed back more quickly since you've placed the least amount of stress on their reproductive system.
PS - Our favorite calving ease bulls this year are McCoy, Balance, & Effective.
Synchronization can jump start your cattle.
We are very honest with the folks we AI for, in that we will not achieve a 100% conception rate with time breeding and artificial insemination (AI). 
We say assuming proper nutrition -
 50% conception is good, 60% is better and 70% is great. 
Anything above 70% - well, take notes because that conception rate is stellar and you should do the same thing again next year.  If we were a part of the equation - awesome.  But it probably has more to do with the nutrition of the cattle.  ;)
One of my favorite parts of AI though is that you're probably using some sort of synchronization practice to achieve the ability to AI.  While we may not get 100% of the cattle we AI pregnant on the first service, the fact that the cattle were synchronized can in some cases "jump start" a heifer or cow into an estrous cycle.  They may not breed on the first service (AI), but they're more apt to breed on the second heat (AI or bull bred) because the hormone cascade and estrous cycle was jump started with the first round of synchonization.
Because of that, you can rightly expect to utilize a 45 day breeding season.  In fact, in my opinion even though fertility isn't proven to be heritable, by culling out cattle who don't breed up in a 45 day period you're not allowing late calving cows to slow down your breeding season the next year.  (That's assuming that a cow who breeds late the first year, will also calve late, and then may not breed up
I don't know about you - but by the time the end of calving season rolls around, I'm thankful that we utilize a shorter vs. longer season at the ranch!  I haven't found anybody yet who loves to calve heifers or cows for months at a time, and if you properly plan your breeding season the year before - you don't have to.
So there's my {5} tips for optimizing reproductive success in cattle.
Because success is reason enough!
What would you add to the list?
Sound off in the comments!  :)


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