Calving Records Will Be Especially Valuable This Year

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.
red newborn cow calf on straw
Last month’s column profiled a beef cow productivity study that coincided with the massive 2001-02 drought that impacted most of Western Canada. That study got less attention than it deserved, because Canada’s entire beef industry became preoccupied with BSE in 2003. But research is an investment, and the lessons learned from research done two decades ago are still paying dividends today. This month’s column focuses on what that study learned about reproductive performance.

What They Did:

Dr. Cheryl Waldner and her colleagues from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine examined factors affecting the productivity of over 30,000 beef cows in more than 200 well-managed herds across Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Peace Region of B.C. Participating producers individually identified each cow and calf, recorded all calf births, maintained an active veterinary-client-patient relationship, had good animal handling facilities, pregnancy tested all breeding females, had a veterinarian evaluate all herd bulls, had an established spring or summer breeding season (i.e., didn’t calve year-round), and worked with the researchers to collect the needed samples and data. These results have been published in Theriogenology 79:1083-1094, Theriogenology 81:840-848 and Livestock Science 163:126-139.

What They Learned:

This spring’s calving records can help identify cows that are less likely to rebreed successfully or more likely to have problems next spring. Continue reading

Tightening the Calving Season: How to Increase Profitability Through Calving Distribution *New Video*

Calving distribution is the percentage of calves born in each 21-day cycle throughout the calving season. Each time a cow is not bred during a 21-day heat cycle, it can cost up to 39 lbs of weaning weight (assuming an average daily gain on calves of 1.85 lbs/day).

The benefits of a shortened calving season are numerous:

  • Having more calves born in the first 21 days of the calving season allows producers to market larger, more uniform groups of calves and increase their profit potential.
  • It increases cow longevity.
  • Heifers that were born earlier have greater pregnancy rates, remain in the herd longer and produce one more calf in their lifetime compared to those that calve in later periods.
  • Herd vaccinations are easier to time.
  • Increased uniformity allows easier comparison between calves.

Continue reading

Feeding Decisions Are Important Breeding Decisions

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the December 2021 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

When life gets really stressful it can be hard to remember what you already know. This column probably won’t tell you anything new, but it might remind you of some important principles that can get overlooked in the scramble to buy feed and make important financial decisions.
Black Angus cattle eating hay as winter feed
Winter feed costs are a key financial make-or-break factor for cow-calf producers, especially this winter. Weaned calf sales bear most of the responsibility for offsetting those winter feed costs, so reproductive performance is another financial make-or-break factor. The most profitable cows are those that wean a calf every year for the greatest number of years.

The big challenge is that feed costs and reproductive performance are inseparable. Drastic measures to minimize per head feed costs usually have a negative impact on reproductive performance. Maximizing reproductive performance can increase feed costs significantly. But there can be some room to move in the middle. Maintaining or even improving reproductive performance can often be achieved by carefully managing the feed you have to maintain optimal body condition scores. This may mean spending money differently, not necessarily more of it, and will help maintain or improve reproductive performance. Continue reading

Feed Efficiency and Beef Quality

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

Cattle breeders are often cautioned to avoid selecting too heavily for a single trait. Avoiding extremes is the obvious reason; selecting for small frame size in the 1950’s accidentally resulted in a dwarfism problem in a few breeds. Another reason is that a lot of traits are genetically correlated, meaning that selecting for one trait can have effects on other seemingly unrelated traits, like how selecting for increased growth rate or leanness eventually results in later puberty in heifers and larger mature cows. No matter what trait you’re selecting for, there will always be unintended consequences on other genetic traits. Breeding your way into a corner can happen quite quickly, but breeding your way out can take a lot longer.

Continue reading

Improve your profits by lowering open rates in first calf heifers

This is a guest post written by Karin Schmid, Beef Production Specialist with the Alberta Beef Producers.

Young cows are investments. And like investments in a stock portfolio, they need to be monitored and their management needs to be periodically adjusted if they’re going provide you with your desired return.

While the average cost of raising a bred heifer in 2018 was $1,840, the most expensive (or valuable, depending on your perspective) cow in the herd is the one that has just had her first calf, because she hasn’t had a chance to recoup any of that investment through the sale of her calf yet. You’re hoping she has a second calf, and a third, and many more to pay for and profit from that investment, but first she has to breed back for the second time.

Continue reading

Unintended Consequences

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.

Continue reading

Replacement heifers – Money, management, and momentum


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.

Continue reading

Bull Selection: Breeding programs that suit operational goals

Editor’s note: The following is part one of a four-part series that will help you to evaluate different breeding programs, which bulls are optimal for your herd, and how much they’re worth.

There are a range of different beef operations in Canada, and there is no one breeding program that is optimal for all operations. Breeding programs will be determined by operational goals and the management practices that fit those goals.

Here are some examples.

A producer that sells weaned calves at auction may choose a crossbreed program with high calving ease and a focus on performance gained from hybrid vigour; or they may prefer the uniformity of a purebred program with reputation premiums.

A producer that retains heifers and is looking for maternal replacements may be focused on maximizing the performance through inbreeding and outcrossing within a single breed; or they may develop FI crosses with higher reproductive performance and longevity.

These choices may be limited by the number of breeding fields available or the number a producer is willing to manage. There are a variety of breeding programs available, and effective sire selection requires an understanding of the characteristics of the available genetics as well as your own operation. Continue reading

Maintaining momentum during the breeding season



Reproductive wrecks can happen all at once or slowly over several years. With breeding season just around the corner, producers should be considering ways to maximize conception rates in their cow herds. Using fertile bulls is one part of the equation, but what about the reproductive management of cows? What are some strategies producers can use this season to make sure their cows are reaching their breeding potential?

John Campbell, DVM, from the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine, shared his insight on boosting calf crop percentage and achieving reproductive goals during a BCRC webinar. Continue reading

Are those girls in good shape? Raise your beef IQ


beef_cattle_fact6_body_condition_reproduction_2017 600x600 web

The productivity, and by association profitability, of a beef cow largely depends on the amount of fat that she carries. Cows with a body condition score of 3.0 have higher pregnancy rates, heavier and healthier calves, and re-breed sooner than cows with lower body condition scores. They also typically have fewer calving difficulties and increased milk production compared to cows with high body condition scores.

Cows in ideal condition are not only more likely to get bred, they’ll rebreed up to 30 days sooner than thin cows, which means more calves on the ground in the first 21 day cycle. This can add up to 42 extra pounds of weaning weight to these earlier born calves.

Eyeballing body condition is often not accurate, so hands-on scoring is recommended.  Feel for fat cover at the short ribs, spine, hooks and pins and either side of the tail head.

By scoring cows around the calving season, you’ll be able to identify animals with a BCS lower than 3.0 and work to get their condition back up before breeding. Scoring when it’s convenient throughout the year will help you identify which animals are maintaining, gaining or losing condition (despite their deceptive hair coat!) and manage them accordingly.

To calculate the difference between the value of weaned calf crops from cows maintained at different body condition scores, visit:  http://www.beefresearch.ca/research/body-condition-scoring.cfm

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