Cattle prices are holding at record levels so far this fall. As we head into bred heifer sale season, there appears to be a lot of interest from producers eager to re-invest profits. Prices for heifer calves have been elevated, however some have taken lofty steer checks and saved heifers back for replacements. The market for breeding cattle has been and looks to be good. Producers are seeing incentive to build the herd.
While I don't discourage you from building numbers, I think it is important to point out the cows in your herd currently are where the real money can be made. Increasing the productive life of the current cowherd should be a focus in my opinion. Keeping these cows in correct body condition and avoiding getting cows too thin before calving is the big key to keeping them productive in the herd.
Take the time to evaluate your cow body condition scores (BCS). This will allow you to determine if you have thin cows that may need extra feed. Although many have abundant feed resources this year, some may want to make sure they have adequate feed resources to build numbers, if they choose to. Body condition scoring the cowherd is one of the best investments in time you can make.
Right now is a great time to conduct a BCS on cows. Cows are at their lowest nutrient requirements in months 7 – 9 post calving. So if you calve in March, now is the lowest nutrient requirement. This gives you an opportunity to sort thin cows and put condition on with feeds that are less expensive. It makes sense to get these cows up to correct BCS (ideally 6) before calving.
If cows are in better body condition score at calving, they will be more likely to breed back and stay in the herd. It is extremely important for producers to focus on keeping the cows they have in production just that... in production. Replacement costs are high and loosing cows due to poor condition is unacceptable.
Back in 1990, Pruitt & Momont showed that cows in a BCS of 6 & 7 at calving had greater than 70% probability of breeding back early and greater than 97% probability of breeding in a 60 day season. On the other hand, cows that were BCS 5 at calving had 60% chance of breeding early and 94% chance of breeding in a 60 day season. Now, cows that were BCS of 4 at calving showed a sizeable drop again. BCS 4 cows were 50% for breeding early and 90% in a 60 day season.
It is very important to have cows in correct BCS entering calving season. Now is the time to correct that. I also suggest that producers minimize weight loss after calving as this could also drag down conception rates. Conducting a BCS on cows now can help you identify cows that need a little extra energy and get them in correct condition for calving. Keeping your producing cows in the production system year in year out will lead to profit.