When it comes to breeding, nutritional programs can be like spring; a little unpredictable. There’s been some recent attention on post-breeding nutrition, especially with heifers in regard to energy intake, grazing behavior and the effect on reproduction. In many areas, breeding occurs just before or at green grass turnout, and the risk associated with lush green grass not providing adequate energy for cattle at the onset of grazing.
Keep them gaining weight
Past research conducted at the University of Wyoming and South Dakota State University has shown dietary energy intake influencing AI and overall season breeding percentage. Whether heifers were fed to gain weight modestly vs only to maintain weight, pregnancy rates were 73% vs 62% for AI breeding and 94% vs 88% for the overall season1,2. Additional studies both at South Dakota and Minnesota looked at embryo quality post insemination with heifers on a gain vs maintain diet and found embryo quality to be better with heifers fed to gain3.
Research done in South Dakota found that heifers with prior grazing experience had improved AI bred conception rates on early spring and summer pastures vs heifers with no prior grazing experience4,5. It was summarized that heifers naïve to grazing were only consuming approximately 40% of their energy requirement based on weight loss seen in the first 27 days post breeding.
Embryonic survival – Key to reproductive success
In cattle, the attachment of the embryo to the uterine wall (endometrium) does not occur quickly after fertilization as it stays in the uterine lumen without attaching for a period of time. At this point, this embryo (conceptus) is highly dependent on uterine secretions of carbohydrate, amino acids, hormones, enzymes and other compounds for continued development and eventual attachment. An abrupt change in diet that leads to insufficient nutrients can interfere with the above mechanism resulting in an increased risk of embryonic mortality.
Prevention of the above problem is fairly simple. Management and nutrition are the keys. In many cases, supplemental feeding on pasture may be necessary. Other practices would include; not turning cattle out to green grass for a couple weeks following breeding. In many areas, cattle are being bred on grass and this problem may not be exacerbated to the same extent, all depending on forage conditions.
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1Arias, R.P., P.J. Gunn, R.P. Lemenager, G.A. Bridges, and S.L. Lake. 2012. Effects of post-AI nutrition on reproductive and growth performance of yearling beef heifers. J. Anim. Sci 90 (Suppl. 3):156 (Abstr.).
2Arias, R.P., P.J. Gunn, R.P. Lemenager, G.A. Perry, G.A. Bridges, and S.L. Lake. 2013. Effects of post-AI nutrition in fertility of yearling beef heifers. Proceedings of the Western Section of the American Society of Animal Science. Vol. 64:126.
3Kruse, S.G., B.J. Funnell, S.L. Bird, H.P. Dias, S.L. Lake, R.P. Arias, G.A. Perry, O.L. Swanson, E.L. Larimore, and G.A. Bridges. 2013. Influence of post-insemination nutrition on embryonic development in beef heifers. J. Animal Sci. 91 (E-Suppl. 2):635.
4Perry, G.A., J. Walker, C. Wright, and K. Olson. 2009. Impact of method of heifer development and post-AI management on reproductive efficiency. Proceedings, The Range Beef Cow Symposium XXI, Casper WY.
5Perry, G.A., B.L. Perry, J.A. Walker, C.L. Wright, R.R. Salverson, and H.H. Patterson. 2013. Evaluation of prior grazing experience on reproductive performance in beef heifers. Prof. Anim. Sci. 29:595-600.
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