NEW Photo Contest: “Genetics In Action”

Genetics in Action

One of my favorite things about summer is checking pastures each night. As the long summer days come to a close, we load up the kids and head out to ride through the rolling hills where our cattle graze.

And each night, without fail, we notice a calf that’s really “coming on” lately (they must have found the creep feeder!), and we get excited about the matings that worked exceptionally well. We take note of which cows are really excelling and which ones may be run down or not milking as well. We start making a list of calves that will make it on the roster for our fall female sale and spring bull sale, and we write down which culls will head to the sale barn in the fall.

Soon, we’ll bring cow-calf pairs home, wean calves, collect weights, castrate bulls, administer vaccines and introduce the calves to the feed bunk.

By the end of September, the bottom-end of our calf crop will head to the sale barn, and we’ll watch them find a home with a local stocker or feedlot operator.

From there, we’ll continue feeding the sale bulls and replacement heifers, and finish rounding up forages for the winter months and calving season.

It won’t be long until calves start hitting the ground, and in the blink of an eye, we’ll be back to the breeding season. Our semen rep will deliver the units we ordered from the catalog. We’ll synchronize heifers and cows, and in the forthcoming days, we’ll be busy artificially inseminating (AI) as they come into heat, allowing two cycles before turning the cleanup bulls out to cover the herd.

READ: What’s the best option? Buy your replacements or raise them?

The breeding season is truly the beginning of every exciting stage of the cow-calf producers’ year, and the rewards follow suit.

I think no matter what stage in the beef production cycle you’re in, you can relate to those feelings of working hard, having a goal and aiming to achieve these new parameters that you’ve set for yourself. Whether that’s weaning heavier calves in the fall, making a premium grade on a load of fed steers or selling a high-dollar bull in a seedstock sale — this is an incredible business to be in, and everybody has a story to share!

This month, we’ve teamed up with Boehringer Ingelheim and Synchsure (cloprostenol sodium) by Merial + Cystorelin (gonadorelin) by Merial to celebrate your genetics in action! We want to see the best of your best in photographs!

VIEW: Meet the 2018 Seedstock 100 operations

I’m excited to introduce our new photo contest “Genetics In Action,” and I invite you to submit your best image to me at With your email, please include your photo (one per person), a title or caption and your mailing address to be eligible to win.

View the photos in the gallery here.

Entries will be open until noon on August 27, and from there, we’ll narrow down the images and select the finalists who will be announced on August 28. As tradition, we’ll ask you to help select our champions, and voting will be open until September 5 with the winners to be announced on September 6.

New this time, we’ll be awarding four top photographers with $50 VISA gift cards, courtesy of Boehringer Ingelheim and Synchsure (cloprostenol sodium) by Merial + Cystorelin (gonadorelin) by Merial. Plus, three voters will be randomly selected to win BEEF caps from our crew.

To view the contest rules, click here.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.


Last call for “Genetics in Action” photos!

genetics at work

Later this week, we’ll head to the South Dakota State Fair with three of our bull calves in tow. Entering cattle at the fair each year gives our ranch the opportunity to showcase the genetics that we’ll have available for sale in the upcoming year. And having our seedstock evaluated by a judge and compared to our peers is a great way to keep us on our toes and continue pushing our breeding program in a positive direction.

Granted, the judge’s opinion only accounts for so much. We breed and raise cattle that our customers demand and don’t pay too much attention to the trends of the show ring. Ultimately, we just really enjoy showing cattle, spending time as a family and connecting with other cattlemen and women at this annual event. It’s our summer vacation before the hustle and bustle of the fall begins, and it something we look forward to each year.

READ: 4 lessons learned from the fair

Attending the fair gives us the chance to watch several breed shows and see the best of the best parade into the ring. I can’t imagine what represents “genetics in action” much better than that!

This month, BEEF teamed up with Boehringer Ingelheim and Synchsure (cloprostenol sodium) by Merial + Cystorelin (gonadorelin) by Merial host a photography contest highlighting your breeding programs and the cattle genetics that are working in your enterprises.

READ: When playing around with genetics, watch for unintended consequences

We have received some great entries so far, and we are extending the deadline for entries until tomorrow, August 28, at noon CST. To enter, email me at with a photo (one per person please), title and your mailing address. All photos will be added to our gallery, and on Wednesday, we’ll announce the finalists and enlist your help in choosing four champions to receive $50 VISA gift cards.

For complete contest details, click here.

To view the gallery of readers’ photos, click here.

So head out to your pasture or feedlot and snap a photo of your best stock. We would love to see a glimpse of your cattle business and the genetics that make you profitable.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

Top 4 “Genetics in action” photos; PLUS: How DNA is improving EPD accuracy

Summer nights in Nebraska

In recent years, multiple beef breeds have banded together to utilize a new software called BOLT to create an EPD system that is more accurate, thanks to DNA markers that are directly incorporated into the genetic evaluation. An added benefit is these breeds all use the same scale, making it simple and easy for buyers to directly compare and contrast a Simmental bull to a Limousin bull, for example.

As the industry moves to these BOLT-powered EPDs, or other single-step genomic-enhanced EPD systems, numbers will shift, outliers will tighten into a more accurate window and producers will need to mentally recalibrate breed averages and the numbers they are shooting to achieve in their breeding programs. Additional education will be needed for seedstock producers to explain these new parameters to their customers.

READ: BOLT software brings more reliability to EPDs

However, this change is an amazing advancement in assisting producers as they make genetic decisions. And by using profitability index tools, which most breeds have, instead of basing purchasing decisions on single-trait selections, we can now leverage this DNA information to make rapid progress in our programs.

READ: Here’s why you should use indexes rather than single-trait EPDs

This information can help us choose replacement heifers that will breed within our window, milk well and calve easy. It can help us select steers that will make the “grade” with a higher percentage qualifying for premium programs. It can help us weed out the wild and mean ones, the poor-doers, the horns, the small scrotums and the poor-structured ones. And these accurate EPDs can help us make these changes at a more rapid pace than ever before.

It’s an exciting time to be in the cattle breeding business, and I can only imagine the potential of genomic-enhanced EPDs as we move forward!

READ: Terminal or maternal? Which should I choose?

To that end, BEEF teamed up with Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) and Synchsure (cloprostenol sodium) by Merial + Cystorelin (gonadorelin) by Merial to host a photo contest called, “Genetics in action.”

We asked readers to share images of their best cattle — the ones that are productive and profitable for their businesses. We received 200+ images, and each photo was better than the last!

View the complete collection by clicking here.

From there, we narrowed down the entries to 15 finalists — Emilee Holt, Scott Stebner, John Maddux, Sandi Wilkie, Jaclyn Wilson, Niki Stephenson, Kristin Mizner, Bonnie Dredla, Cindi DelCurto, Jayde Farbo, Stacey Ferguson, Morgan Cook, Hannah Gaebel, Kyle Klassen and Kyley Clevenger.

View the gallery of finalists here.

Then we asked you to help select our champions! This time, we are awarding four winners with $50 VISA gift cards, courtesy of BI.

Congratulations to our final four:

Sandi Wilkie

First place: “Replacing herself” by Sandi Wilkie

Stacey Ferguson

Second place: “Profit proven” by Stacey Ferguson

Hannah Gaebel

Third place: “Summer nights in Nebraska” by Hannah Gaebel

Cindi DelCurto

Fourth place: “New pasture bound” by Cindi DelCurto

Plus, we selected three voters to receive a limited edition BEEF cap. Our lucky winners are Jason Heisler, Jim Morrison and Brent Lawrey.

Thanks to everyone who sent in photos and voted in this contest! We hope everyone enjoyed it as much as we did!

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

Why systems thinking is vital for a profitable ranching

While writing these articles over the years, I have hoped to present ideas and concepts in enough different ways to help readers start to become “systems thinkers.” Our education system directs us to “linear thinking” which is the basis of simple arithmetic, grammar, historical and geographic facts and a whole host of actions that are followed by predictable outcomes.

That type of education and thinking has many good purposes, but it can also catch us in a trap of “not seeing the forest for the trees.” In other words, we have been trained to see and expect one fairly predictable reaction from any change we might initiate.

Related: 9 ranch management concepts to improve your ranch

The reality is that one initial action seldom, if ever, results in only one reactive change. This is especially true in biological systems. The interconnectedness between creatures and plants that are affected by weather and environment makes predictability in farming and ranching quite difficult.

That difficulty is exacerbated when we fail to look beyond the intended result. We must learn to see the reactions that happen in addition to the desired or expected result. Then there are the “compounding and cascading” effects as described by Dr. Allen Williams that occur as a result of each of the first effects.

Related: Burke Teichert: How to cull the right cow without keeping records

Yes, it gets difficult; and we will never become perfect or perhaps even very good at seeing and predicting all of them. But we don’t have to be perfect to make significantly better decisions.

Just understand that, in biological systems, it doesn’t matter which we touch first—the animals, the plants or the soil—everything around them will be affected. Some of those effects will be large and easy to see. Others can be almost imperceptible.

As farmers and ranchers, we need to manage:

  • Production
  • Economics and finance
  • Marketing
  • People

In other articles, I have said (quoting Dave Pratt and his Ranching for Profit school) there are three ways to improve profit:

  • Reduce overheads
  • Increase turnover
  • Increase gross margin

And, I believe there are “Five Essentials for Successful Ranch Management:”

  1. The approach must be both integrative and holistic (a systems approach)
  2. Strive for continuous improvement of the key resources—land, livestock and people
  3. Acquire and use good planning and decision-making tools
  4. Wage war on cost
  5. Place an emphasis on marketing

From these we may say that to be profitable in ranching you should cut overheads as much as possible, market well, use direct inputs wisely and focus on the three key ratios that I mentioned last month:

  • Acres per cow
  • Cows per person
  • Fed feed vs. grazed feed

To do this well, we must utilize systems or holistic thinking.

In last month’s article, I tried to show how systems thinking links grazing and its many effects to each of the three key ratios and profitability. Let’s now look at systems thinking when discussing reducing overheads, marketing successfully and using direct inputs wisely.

  • Reducing overheads is usually the low hanging fruit on most operations that struggle to be profitable. However, some overheads are a necessary part of any farm or ranch business.

We must have land. There will either be an ownership cost or a rent to pay. Dave Pratt, in his Ranching for Profit schools, suggests (perhaps insists) that a ranch business operating on owned land should always pay the land business (owned by the same people) a fair agricultural rent for the use of that land.

In other words, you have a land business and a ranching business which may have several enterprises. When you pay the land business a fair market rent, you soon discover which is the healthier business. The cost of using land should be the biggest operating cost.

We also need some structures, facilities, equipment, tools, labor and management. These are all overheads. Most ranches have more of this “stuff” than they need—often much more.

Paring down these non-land overheads can make a huge and long-term difference in your profitability—and often the changes accompanying overhead reduction result in higher quality of life and more enjoyment from the business. It is usually fairly easy to figure out where to cut overheads on paper, but it becomes emotionally difficult when you actually begin to get rid of stuff.

Can you begin to see interconnectedness between people, “stuff,” animals, plants and profitability? Some of the “stuff” is necessary to work on the three key ratios mentioned above and discussed last month; but often working on the ratios will help you reduce the overheads.

  • Marketing successfully often results in the creation of new profit centers or enterprises. You may add yearlings to your cow-calf enterprise or you may start selling bred cows. You may even add sheep or goats. You address the three primary questions of marketing:
    • Time: When is the best time to sell this product?
    • Form: Do I sell calves, yearlings, bred heifers, pregnant cows or which combinations?
    • Place: Where is the best place—direct from my ranch, an auction barn, a video auction, etc?  Place and time can both include the use of forward contracting and also futures and options.

It doesn’t take much time to do a lot better job of marketing. Therefore, most of the increased revenue goes directly to the bottom line.

However, much thought is required. You need to determine if a change in the way you market might create a need to change calving date, herd genetics, grazing plan, animal health program, cattle working and processing, and supplementation needs. This all begs for some good systems thinking—looking across enterprises and practices.

  • Using direct inputs wisely means getting more than a dollar back for every dollar you spend. I like to plan to get at least $2 back for every dollar spent on direct inputs.

Why? Because our ability to estimate the effect of a direct input such as a feed supplement is not very good. Therefore, I want a cushion for estimation error. I also want to account for the possibility that the supplement could increase in price and I would have to reduce the use of the input.

After overheads, the remaining costs (direct costs) are mostly feed, vet and marketing costs; the costs that change each time we add or take away one animal). On most ranches, most of that is feed.

It takes a lot of fact finding to feel secure in reducing or increasing the use of direct inputs; but there are times when the cost benefit effect can be huge. A dollar spent can result in a several fold increase in income OR a dollar not spent can sometimes be a dollar saved.

I am a strong believer in strategic supplementation. Knowing what, when and how much supplement to feed is an important decision and can yield a high return to the additional expenditure. But I also believe that it is very easy to get caught up in feeding significantly more than is needed for best economic results.

Andy Roberts at the Livestock and Range Research Station (LARRS) at Miles City, Mont. and Rick Funston at the University of Nebraska West Central Research and Extension Center at North Platte, are doing work that suggests too much supplementation in younger animals can reduce lifetime productivity of a cow and that providing too little protein to pregnant cows can have an effect on the performance of the calves that are in utero.

To take best advantage of these epigenetic and fetal imprinting effects, you need to consider the status of the animal and the diet of the animal (grazing or hay feeding) before supplementation. There are many times when no supplementation is needed and other times when minimal supplementation will pay a big dividend. It’s good to know if, when and how much.

It takes good fact finding and systems thinking to make good decisions.

Teichert, a consultant on strategic planning for ranches, retired in 2010 as vice president and general manager of AgReserves, Inc. He resides in Orem, Utah. Contact him at

When parentage testing pays for your commercial operation

Bulls in pasture

While the onset of DNA testing may appear to primarily be a beneficial tool for seedstock producers, there are advantages for commercial cow-calf ranchers as well. However, despite economic difference between offspring of sires, determining parentage of all offspring it is not currently cost effective for most commercial producers. In certain situations, however, it may pay to determine parentage.

As an industry, we have made a good deal of progress in reducing calving difficulty by first using calf birth weight EPDS, and now calving ease EPDs. However, there are still occasions when calving difficulty occurs and if the incidence seems abnormally high, doing a parentage test on the calves with difficult births may be extremely valuable for deciding future matings.

Likewise when working with replacement heifers or weaned calves, there could be some calves that seem more excitable in the chute or even when you enter the pen. The decision to cull a replacement heifer with this attitude is not hard (for me at least), but if there are a number of them, you might want to see if they share a common sire.

Keeping replacement heifers from high accuracy AI sires can help producers reach genetic goals faster. If neither early ultrasound pregnancy detection nor delayed turn in of cleanup bulls was used following AI, there might be some heifers born with ambiguous birth dates: heifers could be AI sired or natural service sired.

With a 10-day gap between fixed-timed AI and turn in of clean up bulls, there is still overlap of birth dates of AI and nature service-sired calves. A parentage test could clarify which heifers are AI sired.

To complete a parentage test, DNA is needed from the offspring and the possible sires. The testing uses a process of elimination to identify individuals that could not be a parent. If potential parents are closely related, such as full or half-sibs, there could be difficulty in ruling out sires and DNA from the dam may be needed.

In some cases, a bull may have already had parentage markers identified as part of a high- density DNA panel completed for genomically enhanced EPDs. Access to this information may vary with breed associations. The same test and associated markers must be used for the offspring and possible parents. For example, tests run with an older microsatellite panel would need to be rerun with current markers.

Collecting and storing either a hair or blood card for use for a future parentage test would be a good risk management step for all bulls in a breeding battery. This could done at the first semen check or other handling. If you needed to determine parentage at a point after one of the possible sires had died or was sold, the samples you collected and stored would still allow you to test. Without DNA from all possible sires, parentage may not be correctly identified.

There are good reasons for commercial producers to strategically use parentage testing. Accurate records of which bulls were used in each pasture are needed. Banking DNA samples from bulls when first purchased may be useful if future trouble shooting is needed.

To understand more about how parentage testing works see “Parentage Testing” on Also see “Using DNA to determine the performance and economics of commercial herd bulls in multi-sire natural-service breeding groups”.

Johnson is an Extension beef specialist with Kansas State University, based in Colby, Kan.

Weighing the costs of buying or raising replacement heifers


Our family weaned calves over the weekend, and in the upcoming weeks, we’ll sort the calves three ways — feeder calves that we’ll sell later this fall, bulls we’ll sell privately to our customers this winter and replacement heifers for our herd.

Raising replacement heifers is one of the largest expenses a cow-calf producer will incur, so it’s important to evaluate the costs and weigh the pros and cons before deciding to develop these females.

Even in our operation where we’ve kept replacement heifers year after year for decades, instead of just going with the status quo, it would be beneficial to reevaluate the capital required, available forage resources and time dedicated to developing before committing to managing a group of heifers.

Jason Bradley, Noble Foundation agricultural economics consultant, addressed this topic in a recent BEEF article where he weighed the pros and cons of buying virgin or bred females vs. raising your own.

The annual debate between buying or raising females was also recent topic of discussion with Randy Saner, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension educator and Matt Stockton, UNL farm and ranch management economist.

Saner and Stockton write, “When purchasing replacement heifers producers face many factors that should be considered. While all of these factors contribute to selecting, either by retention or by purchase, the appropriate brood cow replacements.

“However of all of these factors two stand out and are most impactful on profitability and are used as the primary focus and drivers of the model used to generate the predicted results of this work.

“These two factors are: current and future expected difference between costs and revenues for producing cows (Both external and internal forces, i.e. markets and costs) and the heifer’s ability to stay in the herd as a productive cow (longevity).”

When considering costs and the value of cow longevity, producers must look at the general cost structure of their operation (low, medium or high) and factor that against the average annual cull rate to determine the rate of raising replacements. Ultimately, the lower the cost and longer the cows stay in the herd determines the rate.

They provide this calculation as an example: “Since it is difficult to anticipate and quantify (capture the true costs and revenues) all the possible conditions, types and choices that producers might make; three general costs structures (low, medium and high) are combined with three different replacement rates measured as average annual cull rates.

“The costs were measured as cost per cow per year ($/hd/yr) and were set at averages near $630, $730 and $830/hd/yr respectively. The replacement rates were set to average near 28% for the high rate, 20% for the middle rate and 14% for the low rate. These replacement rates are designated as aged, middle and young cow herd types.

“When combined, a total of 9 different outcomes were predicted, i.e. low cost production with an aged cow herd, high cost production with a young cow herd, etc.”

To see how decreasing inputs and increasing cow longevity improves your replacement rate, click here.

Meanwhile, Taylor Grussing, South Dakota State University Extension cow-calf field specialist, recommends analyzing the cost of raising heifers from birth to weaning and then weaning to pregnancy checking. She also said producers should consider the cost per head with the understanding that input costs are much higher for 15 head compared to 100 head.

Grussing writes, “Not only does group size change the cost of heifer development, but producers should also consider factors such as their current skill set, experience, resources, technology, time, farming schedule, etc. Some of these factors are difficult to place value on, and thus are unaccounted for in a budget.”

So when should you consider raising heifers? Grussing lists these benefits: better control of genetics, background and disease; quality cannot be outsourced for the cost; confidence that heifers will be productive in your environment; large quantity of heifers needed; and high quality and quantity of resources (pen space, feed, equipment) available.

So when would it be a better route to purchase females? Grussing lists these reasons: lack of resources and experience selecting and raising heifers; new genetics/quality can be outsourced for less; prefer to expand herd with mature cows and use terminal sires to maximize pounds of calf; few head of heifers needed; and a reduction of bull power and maintenance costs.

Now is a good time to put some pencil to paper to figure out your exact costs of developing heifers vs. purchasing virgin or bred females. The answer is certainly dependent on the opportunity, resources, quality of females, market prices and number needed.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or Farm Progress.

Tips to prepare for a successful calving season



You’ve waited approximately nine months to see the results of your breeding decisions and cattle nutrition, and calving day is right around the corner. Kevin Glaubius, Director of Nutrition and Regulatory Support at BioZyme® Inc., offers three tips to make sure you are prepared for the approaching calving season.

1. Prepare Your Calving Kit

There is nothing like getting the first calf on the ground, then running around trying to find the tubing bag, or worse yet, not being able to find the one calving chain if assistance is needed. Take time now to check your inventory and see what has gone missing or needs to be replaced.

BioZyme has prepared an online checklist of important supplies and equipment that you will need for assisting with deliveries, getting the calf up and going and properly treating calves as well as information on where to purchase these items. View the checklist.

2. Protect Cows and Calves from the Elements

With the variety of weather extremes that producers experience across the country, its best to be prepared for all situations. Be sure you have taken an inventory of available bedding options. First-calf heifers aren’t always the best about finding the ideal spot to calf in. Ensuring that you have plenty of dry areas in your pens with protection from the wind can make the difference in calf survival, especially once winter arrives and wind chills dip.

3. Get That Calf Up and Going

Once the calf is on the ground you want to ensure that it has the best start to life possible. Consult with your veterinarian about health protocols and your nutritionist about a feeding program.

Glaubius offers some tips to manage stress and feed adequately during the winter months:

Feed higher quality hay (with more energy) and expect cows to increase intake during cold stress. Without a forage analysis, you cannot be exactly sure of your hay’s energy level, which can lead to inadequate nutrition. BioZyme offers complimentary hay testing and nutrition analysis to its customers and potential customers through its nationwide dealer network and Area Sales Managers. For more information, visit

Feed a supplement that contains BioZyme’s prebiotic Amaferm® to improve digestibility of feed and help ensure that they are extracting all of the energy possible. Research shows that feeding a supplement that contains Amaferm has similar benefits to feeding at least 1lb. of grain.

Consider moving cows to locations with protection from the wind and wet weather. The energy requirement of beef cattle increases about 3% for each degree that the wind chill is below 59 degrees F. This increases even further in wet conditions and prior to fully developing a winter hair coat. This is a major reason programs fail during an abnormally severe winter.

Match animal nutrition requirements to the quality of your forage. Heifers and thin cows require a more energy-dense diet, compared to older or fleshy cows. Sorting animals into groups based on body condition allows you to feed the available forage more effectively. Start by targeting your higher quality, more immature forages toward heifers and thin cows. These earlier harvested forages will be the most energy dense as energy declines considerably with maturity. The older and higher body condition cows can then be fed slightly more mature forage. This allows you to maximize the use of your forage supply while better targeting the nutritional needs of your entire herd.

A good guideline during an extended cold or wet winter period is to feed 3-6 lbs. of energy supplements like soyhulls, corn gluten feed, or corn to avoid weight loss during these stressful periods.

Glaubius also recommends having asupply of colostrum on-hand for emergencies. Two other products that should be readily available for your newborns include Vita Charge® Paste and Vita Charge Neonatal. Both products provide a jump-start to the digestive system to protect calves during stress and help calves recover quickly while supporting immunity and performance. Vita Charge Paste also provides the perfect boost for mom if the delivery was stressful.

Calving time can be a lot less stressful if you plan ahead and go into it prepared. Have the tools you need to help your calves get a jump-start should they have any challenges, and be prepared to help your cows recover too. This is just the beginning of your next adventure of seeing your genetics grow in your herd, and with some nutritional advantages along the way, you’ll be sure to see performance that pays. For more information about keeping your herd healthy,

While calving management perspectives vary, cow reproductive readiness should not


In the cow-calf business, high variability in inputs combined with differences in production goals and the availability of resources make it challenging for producers to determine management plans that will deliver the most profitability for their enterprise. Operating plans are often determined by the size of the cow herd, production goals and the amount of land and labor available. However, one common goal exists for profitability to remain part of the equation; a live calf is worth more than a sick or dead one.

Taking care of cows and their newborn offspring during calving is a must – no matter what the size and scope of your operation, if you are to remain profitable in the cattle business. There isn’t just one “right” way about it, but there is a right way for each producer based on his or her resources.

Simplicity Rules in Big Country

Imagine your calving “lots” ranging in size from 5,000 acres to 20,000 acres. For Poison Spider Cattle Company, this is the reality of where they calve their 1,500 cows. They focus on a 60-day calving window that starts about April 1 each year, and when calving in the “big country” processing newborns is left to mother nature and the new mother cows.

“When we’re calving, we saddle up and go ride through the cows and see if there is something that needs help. We try to help them as much as possible during that time period,” said Shaun Strickland, managing partner at Poison Spider Cattle Company at Casper, Wyo.

When the ranch was first established in Wyoming with an Angus-based herd in 2014, he said they spent quite a bit of time culling those cows that had calving challenges. Now, they might assist a total of three or four out of 1,500 head each spring. The 100 head of heifers they calve are closer to home in a feedlot setting, just in case they do need extra attention.

“If the ground is covered in snow, we typically feed 33-35 pounds of hay per cow, but during calving we increase that to about 38 pounds of hay per day, so the calves have a warm, dry place to lay,” Strickland said. “And we don’t typically have scours or health issues because we aren’t confined. The cows are spread out, not calving on feed waste.”

The first time the calves are touched, unless they do have to treat a rare sick calf, is when the ranch brands, early to mid-June. Then, all calves are branded – their only form of identification – and vaccinated. Strickland said it isn’t cost effective to tag a group of nearly 1,500 calves that will run on open range all summer long.

An Investment Worth Extra TLC

Producing high-quality registered Hereford show heifers is the production goal for DeLHawk Cattle Co., with locations in Earlville, Ill., and Janesville, Wis. Spreading the show heifers ages out, and having adequate numbers of cattle for three sales annually determines the breeding and calving schedule for the operation that relies on at least a 90-percent in vitro fertilization heifer calf crop. Early spring calves born from the first part of January through April are sold in an annual production sale, “Steak and Eggs” each September; the late spring heifer calves are sold online in late November/early December; and a set of select fall-born heifers are marketed online in the spring.

DeLHawk Manager Tom Hawk said that making sure the environment the 80-100 cows will calve in during the winter and spring is clean and set up is their first priority before calving starts. Because of the cold, damp, windy winters, they have a large enclosed arena that they will bed with straw to calve their cows in. They let the cows calve in the open arena, clean and nurse their calves before putting them in a 12×12 calving pen for the first 48 hours. And even then, they only pen the cows up with their newborns at night to make sure they take to the calf and to ensure the calf is getting adequate nutrition.

“We do what we call double suck, turn the cow out during the day away from her calf for 5-6 hours, that way they know at night to get back to their own calf,” Hawk said. “When they go out with their calf in their own environment, we believe they are finding their calves better as far as nurturing and nursing them. So really for the first 48 hours, she’s only with her baby at night. From 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. the cow is out eating hay and the calves are kept inside in pens. After 48 hours, the pair is turned out to its natural environment, but calves have access to “calf camp,” a creep-shed, dry area, where they don’t have to worry about naval health or overall health.”

Although the pair is monitored closely during the calf’s first 48-hours of life, Hawk said during the calf’s first four hours, it is processed and watched extremely closely to make sure it is dry, warm, getting its first colostrum, and given an extra boost with a multitude of vitamins and other vaccinations, as well as gets its navel dipped. The first thing that the DeLHawk calving crew does is make sure that the cow licks dry her new calf and gets colostrum in it. Once that is done, and depending on the temperature, the calf may or may not be placed in an electrical heating hut. The calves will typically spend 1-2 hours in the heated box if the temperatures are below 20 degrees.

“We are big believers in hut-type calf heaters. They are the best investment for calving in the winter,” Hawk said.

After they come out of the calf heater, before they are reintroduced to their mothers in the smaller calving pen, the calves are processed. They are administered Inforce, an intranasal spray; BO-SE, a selenium shot; a shot of Vitamins E & D; Calf-Guard oral vaccine and First Defense oral gel, both to prevent scours.

Once the mother cow has accepted the calf, the calf is warm and has adequately nursed, Hawk said they make sure to tag and weigh calves within the first 12 hours.

“With the amount of investment we have in IVF, the first 48 hours is humungous as far as getting colostrum from the mother, making sure the calves are up and show signs of vigor,” Hawk said.

From the Mountains to the Plains and from the comfort of enclosed arenas to bedded down pastures, calving management can and does vary, with no exact right way. However, both operations are always focused on keeping their cows in optimal reproductive health, and focus on calving and rebreeding year-round by providing a high-quality mineral program to keep their mother cows in their best shape and keep them reproductively sound.

“We feed the VitaFerm® 30-13% Protein Tub™ so the cows heal up and clean out properly. Rarely do we ever see a cow that doesn’t have a good clean up for the rebreed,” Strickland said.

“We are big believers in VitaFerm Concept•Aid®. This mineral keeps our cows in shape, and when it comes time to flush our donor cows, we have great results every time,” Hawk said.

First calf born following IVF embryo breakthrough

UKent IVF calf.jpg

Scientists at the University of Kent in the U.K. have successfully applied a new way to screen the genetics of cattle embryos based on technology originally developed for human in vitro fertilization (IVF).

The approach, called Karyomapping, was originally designed to detect and screen for single gene and chromosome disorders simultaneously in human embryos produced through IVF.

Now, the application of the same technique to cattle IVF — involving screening at the embryo stage rather than when a calf is born — will allow decisions to be made earlier on the best-quality genetic stock, the university announced.

The latest research, led by professor Darren Griffin of the University of Kent’s School of Biosciences, should allow better-quality genetics to be introduced into the breeding herd more rapidly, the announcement said.

Moving genetically screened embryos, rather than live animals, around the world is also more biosecure and environmentally friendly and means they can be delivered to breeding farms in a more efficient manner, the university said.

In vitro-produced embryos are used widely in the cattle breeding industry, but this is the first time they have undergone a whole genomic screen beforehand. We have used Karyomapping to screen for genetic merit as well as the incidence of chromosome disorders, which could significantly reduce the chances of the embryos developing into live-born calves,” Griffin said.

The researchers reported on success of the technique, including the first calf born following Karyomapping on a farm near Penrith, U.K.

The study, “Karyomapping for Simultaneous Genomic Evaluation & Aneuploidy Screening of Preimplantation Bovine Embryos: The First Live-born Calves,” also involved Drs. Kara Turner and Giuseppe Silvestri at the University of Kent, working in collaboration with a team from the University of Nottingham and the Paragon Veterinary group in Cumbria.

Great maternal herds are few and far between

Great maternal cowherds

I am aware of only a few great maternal herds. I am sure there are some of which I am unaware, however, the point is: there are not nearly enough. By great maternal herds I mean those that achieve pregnancy rates of 92-96% through good years and bad with little hay feeding and minimal supplementation of protein and minerals.

There are many herds that get good conception rates by relying on much winter hay feeding and good doses of supplemental protein and minerals and sometimes even grain and TMRs. Those are not great maternal herds because there is a high probability that they are unprofitable because of high input costs—especially in the tough years.

As I continue to work as a speaker for livestock producer meetings, I hear more and more stories of herds where conception rates were in a range of 90-96% a decade or two ago. Now they struggle to get conception rates exceeding 80%.

As I question further, it becomes apparent that their cows have gotten too big, are trying to produce more milk than their environments will allow and have too little or no heterosis. These cows have lower body condition in spite of often being fed much more in the winter. The owners are now either running fewer cows or buying more feed.

The great maternal herds are the ones that are most profitable at the ranch level. The cows have these characteristics: very good fertility; longevity; inherently good body condition; good udders; good feet and legs providing good locomotion; disease and parasite resistance; calving ease; young age at puberty; good dispositions and great mothering ability—this does not mean a lot of milk but the ability to deliver a healthy calf, stay mothered up on pasture moves or long drives and teach the calf how to eat and live in its environment.

These cows may not wean the biggest calves, but the calves grow well for the environment in which they are raised. While the calves may not perform as well as terminal sired calves in the feedlot, they should have very acceptable growth rates and feed conversion if they are slaughtered on time. The calves may even excel for the grass-fed niche.

The great maternal herds are characterized by cows that get pregnant as yearlings and again as 2-year-olds. They are good mothers raising good calves to an acceptable weaning weight. They maintain good body condition using mostly grazed feed with minimal supplementation.

Because of their self-sufficiency, they enable a significant reduction in the need for overheads such as calving facilities and tools, hay making and feeding equipment along with labor and fuel. These herds produce greater turnover as a result of their innate fertility and survivability.

Several steps can be taken to improve maternal traits in herds:

  • Over time, reduce dependence on fed feeds and supplementation.
  • Keep most of the heifer calves and expose them to bulls and shorten the breeding season to as little as 24 days. You may want to take several years to get this done.
  • Over a few years, shorten the calving season to 30 days for cows, but don’t shorten the breeding season. Create the discipline to cull the late-calving or late-bred cows before the next calving season. You may make the cut-off date a little earlier each year until you get the season as short as you want it. Once you get stabilized at 30 days, a high percentage will calve in the first 30 days. You will also be able to sell some good bred or late-calving cows to terminal breeders looking for good cows. Offer some each year and soon the buyers will come.
  • To make good maternal cows, only select bulls whose dams have always calved as a result of first cycle conception. If you select a bull from a first calf heifer, make sure that she also has calved in the first cycle as a 3-year-old before you make that selection.
  • Then stick to the cow culling protocol.
    • All open cows
    • All dry cows
    • All cattle with bad dispositions
    • Those that need to be handled
    • Those that raise poor calves
    • Ugly (your definition, but don’t be too tough)

Opens and dries which will make up most of the culls. If you routinely cull the others for several years, you soon won’t have many to cull in any given year and you will like your herd.

You see, you are letting nature and the bulls select your cows. The ones that fit your environment and management will be the ones that conceive, survive and stay. If they don’t fit, they won’t last nor do you want them to. The mothers of your bulls should be selected in the same way you select your cows.