This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
I once spent a summer working for canola breeders. Some used traditional selection, while others were experimenting with transgenics. One traditionalist was known to say “sticking a new gene into a plant and expecting it to grow better is like throwing a new gear into a watch and expecting it to keep better time. It’ll probably get worse”. This article isn’t about canola or genetics, but it is about time and unintended consequences. Specifically, it’s about the timing of the breeding and calving seasons.
Canada’s cow-calf sector has moved towards fewer, larger beef cow herds. Calving later, on pasture has been a widely adopted strategy allowing producers to expand their cow herds without a proportional increase in equipment, labor, and facilities. When John Basarab led Alberta’s Cow-Calf Audits in the late 1980’s and late 90’s, breeding often started in May and calving started in late February. In contrast, 70% of the producers responding to the 2017 Western Canadian Cow-Calf Survey started breeding in June or July to calve in March or April.
Photo submitted by Brian Trueman
Do you raise your own heifers? Or do you prefer to purchase your replacements? Regardless of your choice, developing heifers costs money and requires careful management.
Ideally, replacement heifers will go on to become long-term producers in the herd sothoughtful selection is critical. “Each producer has different resources and goals when they make the decision of whether they want to buy or retain heifers,” said Kathy Larson, a University of Saskatchewan economist. “Part of that decision needs to involve cost of production,” she advised during a recent BCRC webinar.
Sometimes it can be hard to know where you’re going if you don’t look at where you’ve been. For decades, research and extension organizations have promoted many practices to beef cattle operators with the goals of improving production, product safety, and ultimately profitability. Recently, the Beef Cattle Research Council (BCRC) and Canfax Research Services created a comprehensive report outlining the adoption of recommended beef management practices over time and across Canada.
The analysis used a broad lens to examine all cow-calf practices from feeding methods to manure management, calving cows to retaining heifers, pasture management to feed testing, and everything in between. Recent data from regional cow-calf surveys and research studies were compared to foundational producer survey and Statistics Canada information dating as far back as thirty-five years.
The first of its kind, this analysis:
- Consolidated benchmarks for parameters such as conception rates, weaning weights, death loss, and calving season length;
- Compared current practices and highlighted long-term trends across Canada where possible;
- Identified gaps in adoption and potential extension opportunities;
- Recognized and addressed barriers for adoption.
As the breeding season approaches, some producers will consider using artificial insemination (AI) and estrous synchronization in their breeding herd; others will not because of the extra time, labour and management required in an AI program, the perceived costs of implementing AI, or they are unaware of the potential advantages of AI.
In this article, we will review economic analysis that compares the costs and benefits of fixed-time AI and natural service and discuss how recent changes in breeding bull and butcher bull prices affect the cost of breeding programs. We will also look at a recent study that addresses the question of how many clean-up bulls are needed in a fixed-time AI program.
Economic Benefits and Hurdles of Using Fixed-Time AI
Compared to natural service, an obvious potential advantage of fixed time AI is to have more calves born in the first 21 days of the calving season, which allows producers to market larger, more uniform groups of calves. Some studies have shown as much as a 10 to 17 day calf age advantage and 20 to 44 lbs more per calf at weaning as a result of estrous synchronization (Johnson and Chenoweth). Despite the extra costs of an AI program , fixed-time AI is estimated to have a net benefit of $11,110 for a 40-cow herd compared to natural service because of improved conception and wean rates, as well as heavier weaning weights (Lardner et al., 2015). Continue reading
Update: Missed the webinar? Find the recording and check for future webinars on our Webinars page: http://www.beefresearch.ca/resources/webinars.cfm
Even small changes in the open rates of cows can have a major economic impact. Join this webinar for tips to increase and maintain high pregnancy rates with information on everything from mineral intake to disease management.
This webinar will begin with a brief presentation about the Certified Sustainable Beef Framework by the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB).
Tuesday, January 23 at 7:00 pm MT
- 6:00pm in BC
- 7:00pm in AB
- 8:00pm in SK and MB
- 9:00pm in ON and QC
- 10:00pm in NS, NB and PEI
Interested but aren’t available that evening?
Register anyway! This webinar will be recorded and posted online at a later date. All registrants will receive a link to the recording and additional learning resources. By attending the live event, you’ll have the opportunity to interact and ask questions too.
Find and register for more BCRC webinars here.
Watching on a tablet or mobile device?
If you plan to join the webinar using your tablet or mobile device, you will need to Continue reading
New resources have been added to www.BodyConditionScoring.ca to help cow-calf producers make decisions about managing body condition in their cow herd. Cattle producers know that fat cover plays a crucial role in the reproduction, health and welfare of their animals. These new resources will help guide them when modifying practices on farm to better manage body condition and increase their herds’ productivity and profitability.
The new feed cost calculator gives producers the opportunity to compare the extra expense of adding condition to thin cows in the Fall to the extra value gained by the resulting larger calf crop. The calculator is Continue reading
This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
Trichomoniasis (trich, or “trick”) and bovine genital campylobacteriosis (vibrio) are venereal diseases that cause early embryonic death, repeat breeding, large numbers of open cows at the end of the breeding season, an extended calving season, and enormous economic losses. The microbes that cause trich and vibrio live in the reproductive tracts of infected cattle, but don’t enter the tissues or the bloodstream. Cows and heifers can clear these infections but bulls generally can’t, because the microbes live in the folds of the foreskin. These diseases are difficult to treat, because Continue reading
Although artificial insemination (AI) of cattle has been possible for 60 years, this technology has not been used widely in the Canadian beef industry. Genetic evaluation of beef bulls has improved considerably in recent years, making bull selection more objective and reliable. Sexed semen, expected progeny differences (EPDs) and the ability to select for specific traits identified through DNA markers are now available. Recent scientific studies have also greatly increased our understanding of reproductive function in cattle and have improved our ability to regulate their reproductive cycles.
The true costs of natural service are often underestimated. Buying bulls rather than semen packages is less economical in some cases, even with commercial cattle. By evaluating the costs and benefits of natural service versus AI, producers can determine which program (or combination) will Continue reading
Updated February 28, 2014: Missed the webinar? Find the recording and check for future webinars on the Webinars page: http://www.beefresearch.ca/resources/webinars.cfm
Reproduction is the basis of profitability in the cow-calf sector. Of course the closer a producer can get to having 100% of their cows deliver healthy, uniform calves that thrive through to weaning, the better their bottom line. Register for this free webinar to hear from industry experts on how those reproductive goals can be achieved. You’ll also hear how ongoing investments in research have improved reproductive efficiency in Canada’s beef herd, and what issues still need to be tackled. Continue reading
Although we hope that every cows and heifer will come home from pasture bred, we learn to expect a few to be open. But if you notice cows cycling again a few months after the bull is turned out, you find far more open cows than normal when preg-checking, or calves are born months later than expected, there’s clearly a problem. You might be dealing with bovine venereal diseases like trichmoniasis (trich, pronounced “trick”) or vibriosis (vibrio, and also known as Campylobacteriosis). Continue reading