Cattle nutrition, breeding and dominos. How are all three connected?

When one domino falls over, the rest follow suit. Similarly, cattle nutrition can set off a chain reaction affecting your breeding program.

PC_BEEF Industry Voice_1540x800 in-article image.jpg

Poor cow nutrition can impact your breeding program negatively. The result? A cow might take longer to breed back, or she might not conceive at all.

“The longer a cow stays open, the more money you’re losing on her,” says Ron Scott, Ph.D. and director of cattle research at Purina Animal Nutrition. “If a cow on lower-quality nutrition does rebreed, she could have trouble calving and a difficult calving could mean the calf is not as thrifty.”

Another domino in the chain is colostrum production. An undernourished cow might not have the nutrients needed to produce high-quality colostrum. Low-quality colostrum doesn’t provide newborn calves with the same vital benefits as high-quality colostrum, benefits that last well beyond birth.2

High-quality nutrition supports a productive breeding season and the domino effect only snowballs from there.

Aim for body condition score 6

“Body condition is a good barometer of your nutrition program and what your reproductive success might be,” Scott says.  “There’s an enormous amount of data that shows cows managed for BCS 6 at calving rebreed with better conception rates than cows calving in a lower BCS.”See Chart 1.
PC_BEEF Industry Voice_in-article image chart.png

Monitoring cow body condition scores regularly and during critical times such as calving and rebreeding can help determine your herd’s nutritional needs in real time. Playing catch-up can be costly; cows at a BCS of 3.5 at calving need to gain upwards of three pounds per head per day to be at a BCS of 5.5 before breeding, which is difficult to do in most conditions.

Tighten up breeding and calving windows

Cows must be bred within 85 days after calving to have one calf per year. If a cow doesn’t produce a calf every year, she’s costing you money.

“Say I've got a cow that calves in March this year, then she calves in April next year and she calves in June next year,” Scott says. “She’s not calving every 365 days and will eventually leave the herd because at some point she'll begin cycling after the bull is pulled out.”

A tighter breeding season also prepares cows for a shorter calving window, which has additional economic benefit. A 60-day calving window can provide a more uniform calf crop, heavier calves and, ultimately, more pounds to sell.

“A 60-day calving window might seem like a lofty goal, but it can be achieved with the proper balance of management, genetics, nutrition and health,” Scott says.

Set off the right chain reaction

The “right” nutrition looks different for every operation, but Scott recommends a year-round mineral and protein supplementation program. Year-round, high-quality nutrition can optimize conception rates, calving windows and produce more calves on the ground quicker.

“The reality is, forages are not consistent throughout the year,” Scott says. “When forages are dormant, quality declines. Early-season, immature forages also provide lower quantity nutrition.”

Forage type, quality and seasonality all contribute to volatile nutrition. Steady mineral and protein supplementation throughout the year essentially serves as an insurance policy to protect your cows from nutrition gaps.

For more tips to help your nutrition program set off the right chain reaction, visit


1 Rasby, R. J., Stalker, A., and Funston, R.N. “Body condition scoring beef cows: A tool for managing the nutrition program for beef herds.” UNL Beef Extension EC 281, accessed Nov. 2, 2017,

2 University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Care of the Newborn Calf: Colostrum Management Webinar”, accessed from

3 Rasby, R. J., Stalker, A., and Funston, R.N. “Body condition scoring beef cows: A tool for managing the nutrition program for beef herds.” UNL Beef Extension EC 281, accessed Nov. 2, 2017,


About the Author(s)

Industry Voice by Purina Animal Nutrition


At Purina, we measure greatness by the animals we feed. It’s what drives our research to maximize the potential of every animal year in and year out. Because if there’s greatness on the inside, it shows on the outside.

Our expertise is backed by:

• 90 years of research in animal nutrition

• 24,000 animal nutrition studies

• 90+ nutrition scientists, Ph.D. and veterinarians

• 125 patents approved

• 235 nutritional solutions for 24 species

No other company matches our legacy and commitment to animal nutrition research.

Subscribe to Our Newsletters
BEEF Magazine is the source for beef production, management and market news.

You May Also Like