The breeding season gets under way during May for suckler herds that started calving in February. Like most aspects of suckler farming, herd management has a direct effect on getting cows back in-calf again.
Having cows in good body condition and grazing high-quality swards are just a couple of factors within the farmer’s control that can increase conception rates.
When it comes to preparing for the upcoming breeding season, outlined are five tips to managing cows and stock bulls.
Early April is the best time to prepare the stock bull for breeding. Most bulls are wintered on a maintenance diet, but now is the time to start building body condition ahead of the breeding season.
Feeding 3kg to 4kg/day of a general-purpose ration, along with above-average to good-quality silage (68 to 70 DMD) will improve body condition in a gradual manner.
Exercise is also important. Bulls should be allowed out to a handling pen for a few hours daily. This will improve muscle tone and show up any problems with feet.
If feet have become overgrown, they should be trimmed as early as possible and at least four to six weeks before the start of breeding. Check the animal’s testicles and penis for lumps and warts.
As cows transition from silage to grazing fresh grass, the change in diet can have a negative impact on fertility.
Therefore, if breeding is due to start in May, it is important to have cows settled at grass at least two weeks before the bull is turned out to start breeding. This gets animals over the transition period in diet and helps with conception rates.
First-calved heifers and thinner cows will be under nutritional stress during early lactation.
If these animals are not getting adequate energy and protein from the diet, they will lose body condition and be slow to come in heat, or hold to service.
It is important that these animals are given priority management. This means they should be the first cows to get out to grass, as well as grazing in a separate group during April.
Depending on body condition, grazing these animals as a separate group allows supplementary concentrates to be offered for building body condition.
When condition has improved, thin cows can rejoin the main herd for breeding. In herds with multiple stock bulls, consider keeping these animals as a separate breeding group if possible.
Mineral supplementation is important during the breeding season. Grass can supply a lot of the trace minerals required by cattle, but supplementing with iodine, selenium, copper and phosphorus is always a good idea.
There are multiple ways to supplement cows with minerals and they all have merits. It comes down to cost and the practicalities of supplementation.
While most farmers will opt for natural service at grass, there will be farmers looking to make use of AI to get cows back in calf.
When it comes to using AI at grass, keep stress to a minimum. Getting cows familiarised with handling every day will keep animals much more settled at grass.
Rotational grazing and electric fencing are ideal for getting cows used to regular handling.
Cows in heat will be easier to separate for inseminating.
Bringing in a small group of cows is much easier than trying to isolate a single cow for breeding.
When using AI, graze cows next to the yard, as they are easier to bring in for inseminating.