Managing the fall breeding herd

Author: Kristy

By Dr. Tom R. Troxel, University of Arkansas Extension

For producers with a fall calving herd, December marks the middle of the breeding season. There are a number of December management decisions that can influence the success of the breeding season thus impact the pregnancy rates, weaning rates and weaning weight of the 2016 fall calf crop. The cost effectiveness of each decision should be considered before being implemented. After all, profit potential is the goal which may be more difficult to come by in 2016.

Reducing Feed Cost

Reducing feed cost without reducing cow productivity is the fastest way to reducing production cost and increasing returns. A lot of hay was harvested during the 2015 spring but due to persistent rainfall, much of the hay wasn’t harvested at the highest quality. Most of the harvested hay was over mature and, therefore, not at its peak quality in terms of protein and TDN.

Forage testing each lot of hay and buying the right kind and feeding the right amount of supplemental feed based on the forage test may be the best money spent this winter feeding period. A forage test reveals the nutrient content of hay. Knowing the nutrient composition of hay allows comparisons between hay nutrient levels and the nutrient requirements of the cattle being fed. If the animals’ needs are greater than what is provided in the hay, a least cost feed supplement can be developed. Purchasing and feeding the least cost supplemental feed based on a forage test helps insure the cattle will maintain the desired performance level.

To minimize feed costs, cattle with different nutritional requirements should be grouped separately and supplemented accordingly. Commingling cattle with different requirements (for example, nonlactating cows wintered in the same field as lactating cows) can cause either overfeeding and waste of costly supplements or underfeeding and poor cattle performance. A short (75 day) breeding and calving season ensures all cows are in the same state of production, thus having similar nutrient requirements. Knowing the nutrient composition of the forage allows feeding lower quality hay to cattle with lower nutrient requirements and feeding higher quality hay to cattle with greater requirements.

Body Condition Scores

Body condition scores (BCS) are a numerical rating given to cows to suggest the relative fatness or body composition of a cow. A 1-9 grade system is commonly used by researchers where thin cows score 1-3 and fat cows are scored in a relative sense, 6-9. The BCS can be used as a gauge to determine if the nutritional program that cows have been receiving is adequate to keep them in moderate and ideal condition. More importantly, by body condition scoring cows in the fall, BCS can be adjusted with the nutrition program. It is very important to maintain a body condition score of 5 to 6 during the fall breeding season. This is often very difficult to do if the cows didn’t calve in good body condition.

Cull Problem Cows

Cull problem cows such as cows with unsound feed or legs, bad eyes, udders, or temperament. Cull cows that may have problems calving (prolapse). Cull cows that didn’t calve during the fall calving season. Feed cost is just too high to gamble in cows that may not make it through the winter.

Stockpiled Forages

Tall fescue pasture has both advantages and disadvantages. One of the primary advantages of tall fescue over other cool season forages is the amount of forage produced during the fall that can be stockpiled and grazed during winter. Fescue managed for fall growth out yields sod seeded annual ryegrass or small grains during the same period. Up to one third of the annual yield of fescue is produced during the fall, and the leaves withstand damage from cold weather much better than many other types of forage. Leaves remain green after early winter freezes and retain forage quality well.

Strip Grazing

Proper grazing practices can extend the grazing period for stockpiled forages. Strip grazing is often used for stockpiled forages and can offer the highest utilization of the pasture. A single electric wire can be placed across the field to allow a strip of pasture large enough for a two to three day allotment of forage for the herd. As cattle graze down the first strip of forage, the wire can be advanced across the field providing fresh strips of forage as needed. Some producers have found that two wires work well for strip grazing. One wire holds the cattle in the strip being grazed, and the other wire is placed one strip ahead to prevent the cattle from moving across the field each time a new strip is offered.

Only one wire needs to be moved each time in a “leapfrog” fashion to provide a fresh strip of forage. The field should be grazed starting at the livestock’s water source. This reduces trampling damage to the remaining forage, because the cattle travel back across the grazed area for water. A back wire is not needed when grazing dormant stockpiled forages.

In Arkansas demonstrations, strip grazing management doubled the number of AU grazing days per acre compared to continuous grazing of the entire stockpiled pasture.

Rotational or strip grazing can allow limit grazing of winter annuals. Forage quality of winter annuals often exceeds requirements of cows. Limit grazing makes use of the high quality forage as a supplemental feed and stretches short hay supplies during late winter.

For more information about cattle production, visit or or contact your county extension office.

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