Several large sales of breeding stock in southern Saskatchewan echo strong cattle prices as producers look to improve their herd genetics and begin this year’s calving season.
“There will be more people selling bred heifers than in the past, plus some liquidations,” noted Bob Springer, Regional Livestock Specialist, Saskatchewan Agriculture. "Times are good. If you listen to Harlan Hughes over the years, he’s always said when prices are good, sell your cows. So there’s a time to sell cows and a time to buy cows.”
As calving season approaches, producers are reminded that nutrition is as important for the young bulls finding themselves on new ranches as it is for cows who are approaching their calving season.
“Hay deteriorates. It’s a lower quality feed, so the cows might not be getting the groceries that you think they’re getting,” said Trevor Lennox, Regional Forage Specialist. “If it’s old feed, the bale weights will be down, shrinkage, and the nutrients might be 10 per cent less available. They might be there in a feed test, but the cows just aren’t getting them.”
Compounding the deterioration and shrinkage of bales is the fact that calves are growing and the demands of the fetus are increasing, yet the cow can’t physically eat as much as she used to. That means the total digestible nutrients have to be increasing to compensate.
“Condition of cows is important this time of year, which affects rebreeding time, fertility of the cows after calving, how quickly they’ll start to cycle again and how quickly they can get back in calf. That’s an issue that producers need to be paying attention to,” said Springer.
Cattle specialist Dr. Doug Mann advises, “Most common in this area is not enough protein and energy in the diet, particularly when it gets too cold in January.”
Cows, particularly those that calve early in confined spaces, should be vaccinated three weeks prior to calving, and forage should be monitored for mold and mildew.
“Cows can and will eat almost anything,” said Dr. Mann. “If a cow is underfed in protein and energy, where she’s losing body condition, at calving time the quality of her colostrum is not as great, so she’s not passing on proper immunity to the calf.
“Everything in that calf starts from the colostrum. It’s certainly better to both feed the cow properly so she’s producing enough colostrum and milk, and then also vaccinate the cow three weeks prior to calving so she builds immunity to enteric or gut organisms that the calf can pick up.
“Most producers know that,” Dr. Mann said. “but it’s not as commonly done as it used to be. Part of the reason is that calving season is backed up to the spring, where the cow herd isn’t as concentrated in the corrals anymore, so if your calf is born out on the range where there’s lots of room, it isn’t going to be exposed to the bugs.
“If you’re calving in the winter when the cattle are confined, then you have other issues – a build-up of contaminants in a given area.”
Condition scoring is recommended as a means of evaluating each cow’s readiness for calving. Producers also need to ensure their cows have access to fresh water once calves are on the ground and they’re nursing.
“The optimal condition score on a cow is about 2.5 to 3. The reason you want to have that is the cow is going to lose weight after calving because she’s milking and she needs a lot of body fluids plus her calf and she’s got to build herself back up.”
Nutrition also plays a key factor in re-breeding. A well-nourished cow will cycle more quickly, and that can translate into a calf that is 30 days heavier by fall. It also means more uniformity among the calves.
Springer said, “If they miss one cycle, and get bred in the second 21 days, that’s $78 additional revenue per calf they’re losing. For every one that doesn’t calf in that first cycle, you’re losing $78. Cows that are in poor body condition take anywhere from 80 to 120 days to come back into heat, versus 50 to 60 days for a cow in good shape.”
“In a normal breeding situation, you want 75 per cent of your animals to conceive on that first cycle in 21 days, and then 75 per cent on the next cycle, and then 75 per cent on the third cycle,” noted Mann.
Young Bull Care
Stress management for young bulls is another area in which nutrition can play a key role. While the main objective for yearling bulls is to improve genetics in a herd, these animals are still growing and need a comprehensive nutrition program before and after the breeding season. Better nutrition aids in stress management.
“People that sell bulls and have done it for a number of years are very good at it, and they feed the animals well because the buyer isn’t going to buy something that doesn’t look good,” said Mann. “The problems exist in the people that buy them as young bulls and then don’t look after them after the fact.
“They will buy these young bulls that are in very good body condition, and then there’s huge changes in their diet when they’re taken home and thrown into a bulk pen with a bunch of old bulls and everything is different to them. The pecking order is different, the rations are different. You’ll have bulls that can suddenly get sick or their semen quality drops dramatically, so the problems exist on the purchaser’s side, not on the producer’s side.”
Dr. Mann said that proactive producers should pen young bulls separately from older bulls because their nutrition needs are completely different. Separate penning also reduces stress and improves biosecurity.
“Keep them separate. And after the breeding period, you have to gather these young bulls and feed them better. They have to gain back all the body weight that they lost, plus some, because they’re still growing. So you can’t just be treating them as an old mature bull. They have to come in early, they have to be fed better to gain.
“It has become a common practice for people to buy these yearling bulls, and they will breed cows but they’re really, really hard on themselves. They lose a lot of body condition. They’re young teenagers is what they are.”
Dr. Mann recommends that anyone considering a bull purchase should take advantage of bull buying workshops.
“Bull buying workshops are very worthwhile. They go through the whole evaluating conformation and semen evaluation in bulls, what to look for and what’s important.”
Bulls in a straw
AI and estrus synchronization is also beginning to gain popularity in the region because it offers access to top end bull genetics and reduces the possibility of disease transfer.
“The main objective is to bring genetics into your herd that you can’t otherwise get,” said Springer. “Some bulls are only available in a straw, some of the high-end bulls, to introduce new genetics, whether it be cow traits or bull traits.”
“It allows people to buy genetics that they normally couldn’t afford,” said Mann. “Or what they can do is they can put out a big amount of money on a bull and they can use him over a greater number of cows than he could breed naturally. And it sort of mitigates some of the disease transfer process, of the venereal diseases especially.”
Upcoming Cattle Workshops
There is a Bull Selection Workshop and Trade Show being held in Mankota on Feb. 6 from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., featuring a number of guest speakers, a live animal ultrasound demo, and concluding with a steak supper. Call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre to pre-register at 1-866-457-2377. Registration is $40, payable to “The Southwest Forage Association,” and is limited to 60 participants.
Maximizing Profits in the Cattle Business is a series of three workshops being presented by the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture. Shaunavon is hosting the first workshop Feb. 12 from 1 to 5 p.m. at Christ the King Church Hall. The second workshop will be held at the Morse Community Hall Feb. 13 from 1 to 5 p.m. Abbey Legion Hall is hosting the third workshop, also Feb. 13, from 7 to 10 p.m. All three workshops are free. To register, call 306-778-8285 or email email@example.com.