Practical beef breeding

26 Jan, 2013 01:00 AM
Veterinarian Dr Enoch Bergman (right), talking with Lew Smit (left), Koojan Hills Angus stud, Kojonup and Brad Patterson, Bullock Hills Simmental stud, Woodanilling, at the recent field day.
Veterinarian Dr Enoch Bergman (right), talking with Lew Smit (left), Koojan Hills Angus stud, Kojonup and Brad Patterson, Bullock Hills Simmental stud, Woodanilling, at the recent field day.

BEEF cattle enthusiasts who attended the Katanning district beef field day at Brad and Sylvia Patterson and family's Bullock Hills Simmental stud, Woodanilling, were treated to some fast but very informative and practical talking by veterinarian Dr Enoch Bergman.

After a quick rundown on how he completed his veterinary degree at the Colorado State University in 2001 and then emigrated to WA in 2003, joining Swans Veterinary Services, Esperance, and marrying an Australian girl, he moved into the first of his two topics of the afternoon, "Building a Better Cow".

The key to developing a good cow workforce is to focus on hiring good heifers, along with ongoing employee training and assistance programs.

This means that a producer's focus, as a cow employer, should be on their junior workforce, with resources allocated to young stock paying dividends for the remainder of those animal's lives.

So what is our target beef animal?

It's a three-year-old cow, in good body condition, having already reared one calf and delivered a healthy newborn calf within the first month of her second calving season.

How do we get there?

p Targets for success

Heifers should weigh close to 65 per cent of mature weight before joining and should be on a rising plane of nutrition through joining, weighing close to 85pc of mature weight at calving.

Heifers should be in optimum body condition at calving (score 3) and should be closely supervised through calving and early intervention provided, if required.

They should be joined so they finish calving at least two months before their second joining.

Building better cows begins as soon as a heifer calf is born.

We must strive to ensure that she is born with the least amount of trauma possible, that she gets a good dose of colustrum, and ensure her mother is fed well enough, to feed her appropriately, getting that potential heifer off to a good start.

If your next calf crop isn't the best genetics you've ever owned you are going backwards.

We can stand around and look at groups of heifers all day, picking out some of the best and some of the worst, but the reality is that the best heifers are those that get pregnant early in their first joining.

Put your best cows to the best bulls or use artificial insemination to put the best genetics into your best genetics.

Cows with bad attitudes, bad teats, or bad feet need to go, but in the meantime, why not terminally-cross them to something with a bit more growth, just don't keep their hybrid daughters.

At marking, weaning and moving forward before joining, heifers should be set up with an appropriate vaccination, de-worming, and micromineral program.

Protein supplement can play an important role in heifer development with heifers needing to maximise their frame score as dictated by their genetics, not limited by their nutritional plane.

Protein and microminerals are important for laying down meat and bone, so say no to fat, dumpy heifers.

The most important time in a heifer's life is her first joining.

Up until then she should have been groomed, every step and every intervention has been an investment for her first new job, to gestate, calve and raise a saleable product.

p Early joining

Many producers join their heifers for the same time period as their adult cows.

Perfectly managed beef heifers generally take from 20 to 30 days longer than cows to begin cycling after they calve.

This means that if a cow and a heifer calve on the same day, on average the heifer will be close to a month later next season.

For this reason it is a sound management practice to join heifers two to three weeks in advance of the cow herd.

If it is too hot to do this, then you are calving at the wrong time. Move your cows back instead.

Not only does this allow the heifers more time to start cycling again, improving their next joining conception rates, but it will improve the consistency of the calf crop at weaning, providing the calves from heifers, a few more weeks of growth than their better-fed siblings, fed by mature cows.

p Short joining

Another sound management practice that buys even more time for heifers to return to oestrus, to shorten the labour intensive heifer calving period and perhaps most importantly, to select for both early puberty and cyclicity, is to shorten the time during which heifers are joined.

If all the heifers are properly developed and cycling then we can expect around 84 percent of them to conceive within a six week joining period. We don't need anymore time than that for heifers.

We don't want to get more than 84pc of the heifers pregnant, if so, then too many resources have been invested and not enough selection pressures placed on them.

There is no tragedy in an empty heifer, pregnancy test early and an empty heifer is still a valuable commodity to grass-finish or short feed.

Some veterinarians can pregnancy-test down to 30-35 days and lay scanners are allowed to pregnancy test down to 56 days - either way, the earlier the better regarding heifers.

Six weeks after joining is a good time.

A six week heifer joining in advance of a nine week cow joining, is optimal in most southern situations.

Producers that are worried about the risks of short joining their heifers can long join them as an insurance policy and then select back to a short joining.

Source an Australian cattle vet, accredited with their national competency in pregnancy diagnosis scheme, and your veterinarian will be able to split the early from the late pregnancies.

But for the program to work you must not be tempted to retain the late calvers.

Contrary to popular belief, a late calver is far worse than an empty heifer.

p Synchrony and artificial insemination

Another strategy is to synchronise heifers to condense more oestrus events into a shorter time period.

The simplest synchronisation method is two doses of prostaglandins given eleven days apart, inducing all treated animals to come on heat two to five days following the second dose.

A single dose of prostaglandins, given five days after the bulls have gone in to the mob, will condense oestruses to a 10 day window.

As the heats are grouped up, extra bull power is an issue especially for the first heat.

Fixed Time Artificial Insemination (FTAI) programs represent the ultimate in synchrony.

They also create the opportunity for producers to organise large drafts of animals for AI programs within a four to six hour window without the need for heat detection.

In most instances heifers represent a producer's elite genetics and we now have the tools necessary to capitalise on our best genetics, manage dystocia and program our heifers to calve in a timely fashion, using FTAI.

AI is now not only affordable to commercial cattlemen, but also profitable.

p Calving

Getting heifers in calf early in the joining season is half the battle and they then need extra attention to assure they continue to grow musculoskeletally and avoid becoming obese up until calving.

Nutrition before and during heifer calving is of utmost importance.

Once they begin calving, appropriate dystocia management, focusing on early intervention, is paramount to success.

Heifers which suffer calving troubles take even longer to begin cycling again and suffer lower subsequent conception rates.

If a heifer is trying without progress for longer than half an hour she needs assistance.

If a producer is trying to deliver a calf without progress for longer than an hour, veterinary assistance is required.

Timely intervention improves calving profitability - calving is harvest time.

Keep the heifer calving season short and check them at least three times a day.

Two weeks before and throughout calving, daily feed heifers hay in the late afternoon /early evening and they will tend to calve during the day.

p Cows

After they deliver their second calf their need for appropriate vaccinations, de-worming and micromineral supplements needs to be maintained.

Understanding and monitoring Body Condition Score (BCS) of cows is a fantastic tool.

Extra supplementation or early weaning are both excellent strategies for managing cow condition.

Pregnancy-testing as early as achievable and quitting empty cows, also helps manage feed.

WA cull-cow markets usually slump over the summer, so pregnancy-testing cows early and putting empties on the truck pays much greater dividends than the extra few milk feeds the calf will miss out on.

Pregnancy-testing represents perhaps one of the greatest single potential returns on investment available to producers.

Empty cows are of very little value in any breeding herd.

A three-year-old young cow finally graduates when she delivers her second calf.

She has spent the last three years in the classroom, learning to eat roughage, raise calves and work for her owner.

If she calves early as a two-year-old, she is more likely to calve early as a three-year-old and will likely go on to be a highly productive cow annually weaning an older, heavier and more profitable calf.

Remember, they work for us.

  • Footnote: Within the Swans Veterinary Services practice, Dr Bergman pregnancy-tests about 35,000 cows annually and is a registered examiner for the Australian Cattle Vets National Competency in Pregnancy Diagnosis scheme).
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