Saturday, April 17, 2010

Spring vs. Fall Calving

As we get later into the spring calving season, the dilemma starts with "What do I do with my late calving cows?"  In this circumstance, the decision needs to be made to either try to breed the cows back quickly to get her calving with the rest of the herd, or hold her over and breed her to calve in the fall.  My first experience came about due to a bull going bad during breeding season, resulting in 23 open cows at fall preg checking.  The cows were too good to cull, and it would cost too much to hold them over a year, so breeding them for fall calves ended up being the best option.

Not always does this decision need to be made due to circumstance.  The decision to calve in the spring, fall, or both is one that needs to be made after establishing your goals.  I think the three biggest factors to take in consideration when deciding is your available market, your resources, and weather.

1.  Market:  This is a no-brainer.  If you do not have a viable market to sell your calves to, don't throw your money away.  Sometimes though, switching part or all of your herd to a different calving season can bring added value and expand your customer base.  Fall calves can open doors to a southern steer market and fall bulls can bring in customers that will not use a true yearling bull.

2. Resources: Resources can range between a lot of different factors.  It could mean your ability to segregate different ages of calves in your lot, or having multiple pastures to manage your spring and fall herd both separately and properly.  Your ability to feed cows can be a major issue.  Fall calving cows require supplemental feed int the late fall and winter months.  Cows need extra energy and protein to make up for the poor quality forage in the winter and to make up for the fact that she is lactating.  The ability to creep feed the calves is almost a must for fall calves.  All that being said, the extra money spent in the winter is made up for in the spring and summer months because the cows requirements are at their lowest, and the same amount of pasture will run more cows.  Our farm in Nebraska had a few swampy pastures with very low quality grass.  Cows with calves at side did very poorly on these pastures, but when we started putting our fall calving cows on these pastures in the summer, the cows actually gained weight.

3. Weather:  This is pretty self explanatory.  Calves in the spring require shelter from the elements and the rancher must have the ability to warm less vigorous newborns or just be able to bring the calf in due to extreme cold temperatures.  Summer and fall calves have the opposite issue to deal with.  Hot weather can cause calves to become dehydrated and die within a matter of hours.  And cows can become exhausted faster when calving in the heat.  Abundant shade is a must during summer and fall calving time.

Every type of calving program has its place.  You just have to decide which program or how many in each program is right for your operation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Shearing Cattle for Summer

Temperatures are getting warmer, and the cattle can not get rid of that winter coat fast enough. Especially down here in Texas. We shear almost all of our cattle in mid-spring for many reasons. The cows are sheared to get that winter coat off, and keep them cooler in the hot springtime days, and scorching Texas summers. The show calves are sheared to remove the dead, brown hair, and start over with a brand new coat. Lastly, any spring and summer born babies are sheared to keep them cooler, and remove the brown coat that many of the black calves are born with. My example in this blog will be the shearing of a young show heifer, but the technique is the same for all cattle.

When beginning to shear, I determine which clipper I am going to use by what my purpose of shearing is.  If I am shearing cows for the summer, I typically use sheephead clippers.  If I am taking the winter hair off a show heifer, I use my flathead clippers.  Reguardless of which type of clipper I am using, I clip with the lay of the hair.
Flat Head Clipper
Sheep Head Clipper
Now that I have my clippers picked out, I get the animal in the chute, blow the dirt out thoroughly, and make sure all the hair is dry.  This will prevent your blades from dulling to quickly.  Starting at the hind quarter, I make long strokes straight down, all the way to the hock.  Do not shear the legs.  The hair is left of the legs to give protection from flies, and this hair does not shed like the body hair, so it will give you a little head start to your fall hair growth.  Continue to work forward on the body with long downward strokes until you reach the ears.   I do not shear lower than a line from the flank and the bottom of the brisket.

After the body is sheared, then I take the clippers and shave the tail, head, and neck against the grain of the hair.  Also shave the hair on the brisket between the front legs.  For show cattle, do not shave the top of the tail head.  You want to keep all of this hair you can for grooming in the fall and winter season.
Feel free to contact me if you have questions on any part of this process.  It is very simple, but I know it can be a little intimidating for an amateur.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Using a Torch to Clip Cattle (video)

Using a propane torch is a fast, safe way to clip cattle. My video demonstrates the process of both clipping and torching a cow. Equipment needed is a livestock blower to clean the dirt off the animal and to get the hair laying in the desired direction. A sheephead clipper with a goat comb blade to prevent cutting of the animals skin, a scotch comb, and a torch. Torches can be purchased at several livestock supply companies such as Sullivan Supply Co.

Caution, some clipping positions were done for video production, and anyone attempting to clip and torch cattle need to take precautions to prevent injury to themselves and their equipment.

Click here if you can not view this video or would like to see others

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Heat Synchronizing Heifers and Cows

Before I even start this blog, I want to say that my approach is “less is more” when it comes to using hormones to A.I. cows or heifers. That being said, life is not perfect, and we can not set aside our entire life for 30-60 days to get all of our cattle A.I.ed at the perfect time. There are many different regimens that I use to synchronize, but they all include at least 2 of the following drugs: Lutalyse, Cystorelin, and CIDRs. I will highlight my 3 favorite regimens.

1. When I want to keep the cattle fairly close together, but I have some time to heat check and A.I. for several days, I use this. Heat check for 5 days and A.I. cow or heifer 12 hrs after standing heat is observed, then on Day 6, give a shot of Lutalyse to any cattle not A.I.ed and apply heat detection patch on tail head, then heat check an additional 5 days and A.I. any cattle 12 hrs after standing heat is observed. The total number of days is 11. 1/4 of the cattle only go through the chute 1 time, and the other ¾ of the cattle go through the chute 2 times and only get 1 shot of Lutalyse.

2. In times when I have more time immediately, and my working facilities are better, I use this schedule. On Day 1, I give all animals a shot of Lutalyse and apply heat detection patches to the tail heads, then heat check and A.I. all animals demonstrating estrous 12 hrs after observing them in standing heat on days 1 thru 6. All animals that did not have a detectable heat and were not A.I.ed, approximately ¼ if all animals are cycling, are given a second shot of Lutalyse, then detect and A.I. all animals 12 hrs after observed in standing heat for an additional 5 days. Total number of days is 12. ¾ of the cattle go through the chute 2 times and only receive 1 shot of Lutalyse, and the other ¼ are run through the chute 3 times and receive 2 shots of Lutalyse. This regimen is different than the typical 2 shot method because ¾ of the cattle only get one shot of Lutalyse, and more of the cattle are run through the chute less times.

3. The last method is used when a mass A.I. is planned, or a minimal number of days are available to A.I. cattle. I prefer heat checking and animals observed in standing heat, but sometimes it just isn't feasible. Day 1, a CIDR is applied vaginally to the heifer or cow. A shot of Cystorelin can also be administered at this time. On Day 7, the CIDR is removed, a shot of Lutalyse is injected, and the heat detection patch is applied to the tail head. At this point, cattle can either be heat checked and A.I.ed 12 hours after observing standing heat over a 5 day period, or all cattle can be mass A.I.ed 60-72 hours after the CIDR is removed.

When cattle, either after a natural heat or synchronized heat, I like to administer 2cc of Cystorelin at time of insemination. Another money saving tip I just learned about is cutting the heat detection patches in half, thus doubling the number of patches for the same money.

Disclaimer: Any of your prostaglandin drugs such as Lutalyse and your GnRH drugs like Cystorelin, must be prescribed by a licensed veterinarian, administered according to their label. Any extra-label use of these drugs must first be discussed and approved by a licensed veterinarian.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A.I. vs. Natural Breeding

Calves are being born left and right, and every day we are being bombarded with advertisements for bull sales and the next great A.I. sire. So how do you decide whether to spend the extra money on a top notch herd bull or buy semen on that great looking bull in the magazine?

First off, I am not going to tell you one way is better than the other. That is up to you to decide after looking at both your goals and resources. I will give you the pros and cons of each.

A.I. Breeding
-Gives you the opportunity to use superior genetics from a sire that you could never afford to purchase.
-When breeding season is over, you do not have a bull, or a lot of bulls to feed and keep from tearing down every fence on the property.
-Allows the ability to produce consistency withing the calf crop by using a single sire, or a similar genetic line of bulls
-Calves can be born closer together through synchronization.
-Even the smallest herds can get cows bred within budget, rather than purchasing a bull to breed 2, 3, or even 15 cows.

-Requires cow to be handled extra, along with requiring better facilities and extra labor to get the job done.
-Time restrains if you have to hire a technician to do the A.I. ing

Natural Breeding
-Bull does all the work, so not spending hours heat detecting each day.
-No facilities needed, cows can get bred right out in the pasture.

-Can not match each bull to each cow, and sometimes multiple bulls need to be used to breed heifers vs. cows.
-If replacement heifers are being retained, a new or different bull is needed to breed the replacement heifers too.
-Bull must be fed and cared for, even when they are not out breeding cows.
-High quality bulls cost a lot of money vs. the cost to purchase semen from a similar A.I. sire.

Only you can determine which route to take, and really most operations use a combination of both. And to fairly compare the two, each operator needs to break down all the costs associated with both and divide it by the number of cows either being A.I.ed or by the number of cows the bull will breed. You also need to determine which bull (A.I. or bull purchased at bull sale) will take your herd closer to your goals. You are not saving money if you are going the wrong direction.