Looking For Reproductive Efficiency Answers

Looking For Reproductive Efficiency Answers

During the recent Cattle Industry Convention [3], I sat in on a meeting where the crux of the discussion was how best to improve reproductive efficiency in the nation’s cowherd.

Economists tell us the very best way to reduce production costs is to increase reproductive-efficiency rate – fewer replacements, more longevity [4], more pounds, etc. The economic impacts of these are staggering. On individual operations, reproductive rates are easy to quantify and the impacts easy to measure; from an industry standpoint, however, it’s more complicated. Yet, I don’t think it’s hard to get an idea of the impact by looking at the seedstock industry.

One thing we know is that one way to reduce reproductive problems is to increase inputs, whether it be via better synchronization or better nutrition. The seedstock industry has been able to do that; for the most part, so has the cow-calf sector.

Under a typical heifer development program, nearly any heifer should have the opportunity to breed, regardless of her maintenance requirements. Science tells us we can’t increase growth, mature size and milk production without increasing maintenance requirements. The only way to moderate the impact is to feed more, or improve inherent fertility [5].

The seedstock industry has tools to help it improve fertility, but I’d wager that the impact of increased maintenance requirements has largely been mitigated through additional feed.

I’ve heard dozens of seedstock producers discuss their concerns in these areas. But, they also are being dictated to by the marketplace, which puts a premium on the very trait that runs contrary to one of the most economically relevant traits [6] of all –reproductive rate. With record prices, the incentive to produce as many pounds as possible has never been greater.

The real problem is that after implementing the easiest solution to increasing reproduction – the planned application of heterosis [7] – it becomes a very complicated matter to determine the optimum levels for various traits in varying environments. The industry desperately needs a tool to help producers define the appropriate biological type/genetics for their given operation. Yet, at this time, the best barometer for producers is their own personal experience.

Perhaps the tool we’re looking for is something that simply helps us quantify what we’re seeing in a manner that allows us to use it to move our operations forward. Sadly, we have the best tools in the world to make genetic change, but the tools to determine what change should be made don’t exist.

I recently watched a very good producer pay over $6,000 each on 10 bulls. His comment to me was: “I know I’m going to make genetic progress [8], but it will take 6-10 years to know if it was in the right direction.”