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Beef Column: A cow-calf operation’s profitability is dependent on calves’ survival.
March 16, 2023
by Amanda Cauffman
As spring calving season wraps up for some cow-calf producers throughout the state, now is the time to take a few minutes to evaluate how the season shook out. Reviewing the good, bad and indifferent parts of the calving season allows producers to applaud the successes while taking a good look at management and assessing potential areas of change.
A good place to start is back in the fall. You should pregnancy-check cows in the fall to determine bred and open cows. Knowing which cows were bred allows producers to track fetal loss (abortions) from the time of pregnancy checking to calving.
Another area to look at is the cow herd’s calving window and the cows’ ability to get bred within the first 21 days of being exposed to the bull. The goal is for every cow to calve every 12 months. By identifying which cows are getting closer to falling out of the breeding window, you identify those that need assistance to increase their odds for conceiving early in their next breeding season.
Calf loss due to dystocia (difficult birth) should also be evaluated, as a cow-calf enterprise’s profitability is dependent on calf survival. Excessive fetal losses may need to be evaluated for potential causes such as environment, cow nutrition, genetics, breeding issues or intervention time, to name a few.
Dystocia can be a major cause of economic loss in the cow-calf enterprise, and records should be reviewed to assess the frequency and cause of dystocia occurrences. Studies involving the impact of dystocia on calf health have shown that calves that survived dystocia have a lower passive transfer of immunity by colostrum consumption and higher mortality from birth to weaning.
Dystocia can be caused by many factors, including cow age, calf size, cow’s pelvic size and shape, cow’s body condition, and cow nutrition. Keeping and evaluating dystocia records gives producers the ability to find the cause and address any management issues that may need to be tweaked. Cows experiencing dystocia should have a veterinary reproductive exam around 30 days after calving to identify and assess any problems prior to the breeding season.
Another indicator to look at in the calving records is calf vigor and malpresentation (calf came backward, had a foot back, etc.) at birth, as this may be a sign of inadequate nutrition. Research conducted at the University of Missouri looked at the impacts of inadequate nutrition in beef cows during late gestation. The cows were split into two groups. One group was fed 100% of their daily requirements, and the other group was fed 70% of their daily requirements. The study showed that 23% of the nutrient-restricted dams had incorrect calf presentation at birth and lower calf vigor at birth compared to the control group.
Make sure cows are receiving adequate nutrition, especially in late gestation, by using body condition scores and balancing rations based on a hay test to ensure it is meeting the cows’ needs.
A cow-calf enterprise’s profitability is dependent on calf survival. Even well-managed cow-calf operations may experience difficulty during the calving season where management strategies need to be altered. Having and reviewing calving records can help address the problem areas and reassure practices that have a positive impact on calf survival.
Cauffman is a University of Wisconsin Extension livestock educator for Grant, Green, Iowa and Lafayette counties. This column is provided by UW Extension’s Wisconsin Beef Information Center.
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