From fetus to calf, yearling, first-calf heifer and mature cow, every age female on the cow-calf operation needs attention to create reproductive momentum. Bob Larson, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACT, Dipl. ACVPM, Kansas State University, believes heifer development is critically important and is one of the most important things veterinarians can do for their beef cattle clients.
“I think it’s a classic win-win situation,” Larson says. “It makes money for the veterinary practice, it’s rewarding, it taps into a lot of things we are good at in veterinary medicine and it is really beneficial to our clients. I think heifer developing is one of the most important economic management things that you are going to do on a farm or ranch.”
Don’t forget the younger heifers that are pouring their nutrients into growth and upcoming puberty. One of the most critical ways you can create what Larson calls “reproductive momentum” is to look at all ages of female cattle on the operation at each stage of their development and reproductive life cycle. This can help you and your clients coordinate everything from breeding to calving on-time and on-schedule for the following years. Larson says the goal of creating momentum is to get cows and heifers bred early, calving on time and re-bred to calve on time the following years. This momentum will help your clients reduce time lags and days open in the cowherd. “I have to have momentum working for me,” he says. “To use an analogy from driving: I can’t ever take my foot off the gas. I am not running real fast, but I’m running steady.”
Start with the cows
For spring-calving herds in the pre-calving winter months, Larson suggests looking at each group separately. “There is more than one group of females on a farm at any given time,” Larson says. Different groups include the mature cows, first-calf heifers, yearlings, baby calves and those in utero.
One group to focus on are the mature pregnant cows that will be calving soon. Cows need to calve in good body condition, and Larson recommends aiming for almost all of the mature cows in the herd to have a BCS of about 5. “If cows are thin, producers need to provide a supplement to the base forage,” he says. “In general, supplementing thin cows on moderate to poor-quality forage can be different than supplementing moderate-condition cows. With low-protein forage, supplementing protein will increase intake – this is often all that is needed to maintain moderate condition cows on low-quality forage.”