The cows and calves had their weight recorded. Many of the calves are already getting close to 600 lbs. After we were finished, everyone was turned out to the pasture; less than an hour in the pens for each herd of cows.
The bulls have been out with the cows for the past 60 days, but breeding season has come to an end, and they are headed to their pastures separate from the cows. A short breeding season is utilized as a useful management tool.
Calves are born in a short window, allowing us to dedicate time to watching over cows during calving.
Cows are more uniform in their nutrient requirements which change with stage of pregnancy and length of lactation.
Spring calving works for herds in Tennessee because our peak in forage production coincides with peak in cow nutrient requirements, allowing us to use pasture to supply all of our cow’s diet during this most important time.
Calves are more uniform at weaning, making it easier to market and feed them after weaning.
Less fertile cows are identified and culled from the herd when not breeding during this 60-day window, allowing us to build a herd with selection for better genetics for efficiency and production.
A few years ago, I recorded a few short videos while pulling bulls from the pastures and discussed what was happening. Continue reading →
The American Angus Association is one of the largest organizations within the cattle industry and does a great job showcasing the hard-working cattle producers across the country. Along with numerous print publications, the Angus folks have a great online presence. Their YouTube channel is full of videos featuring great news and information for cattle farmers and those looking to learn more about beef cattle production.
Young Bull Management
Late last summer I had a great opportunity to work with the folks at the Angus Association. They came out to the University farm in Spring Hill, TN and filmed a few segments with us. The first segment aired on the weekly Angus Report on RFD-TV back in October. Middle Tennessee Research and Education Center Director, Kevin Thompson, shared some great tips with cattle producers who are interested in better management for their young herd bulls.
Be sure to check out more of the videos on the American Angus Association’s YouTube channel and let them know you appreciate their work to share the stories of cattle farmers and ranchers from across the country. They are doing their part to share the honest story of agriculture with the world and you should too!
This month I checked another state off the list as I traveled to Columbus, Ohio for a work trip. We were there for a “Think Tank” meeting with some of the best reproductive physiologists in the academic world of cattle in the U.S. Along with this meeting we had the opportunity to tour the Select Sires Bull facilities near Plain City.
The bulls with a company like Select Sires go through a strenuous testing period starting at a very young age. The first cut for bulls happens at birth based on genetic lines. Do the bull’s genetics fit the direction of the desired traits in breeding herds? From a pool of 100 bulls, only a few may make the final cut for high-volume semen collection. At around 1 year of age bulls are collected for a young sire test. Several cows will be bred to the bulls and their offspring will be used to estimate the genetic value of the bulls. The bulls that graduate in the full program may then be used to collect semen for larger marketing.
At this point bulls may be 4-5 years of age, so time span is obviously a huge obstacle when predicting what genetics will be in demand by breeding herds years down the road. Bull semen companies like Select Sires are beginning to utilize genomic testing to narrow their bull selection pool, selecting bulls with higher genetic value at a younger age. The use of genetic testing is expanding in the industry and increases our ability to make quicker genetic progress.
Semen Collection and Processing
The semen collection process is relatively simple and has been narrowed down to a science by these companies. Bulls are collected with an artificial vagina 2-4 times per week and as many as eight. An average ejaculate may contain 1 billion sperm which are then diluted with an extender (made from a base of whole milk or egg yolk) and stored in 1/2cc straws for freezing. An average Holstein bull can produce 80,000 to 110,000 straws of semen annually. Each year, Select Sires produces 1,962 gallons of processed semen.
Prior to freezing the semen collection is checked for abnormalities of motility (forward movement) and morphology (normal shape, size, formation). A healthy sperm travels 12 feet per hour. In relative size that’s equivalent to a car traveling 37-41 mph.
The semen straws are then stored frozen in liquid nitrogen (-320*F) where metabolic activity of sperm comes to a halt. Select Sires uses over 500,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen annually and can process up to 75,000 straws per day.
I also had the opportunity to tour their facilities where sperm are sorted to produce sexed semen. Sperm carrying X- or Y- chromosomes have a different amount of genetic material and can be sorted to produce male or female semen samples. This is most commonly used in dairy herds looking to produce more heifer calves. The fertility of sexed semen is lower and the cost is higher, so use of sexed semen is not as frequent as non-sorted.
Companies like Select Sires, Genex, ABS, and numerous others contribute a great deal of information and technology to the cattle industry. Their money contributed to academic research allows us to investigate better management of reproduction in cattle, improving efficiency and genetic progress within herds across the country.
It’s all a pretty cool segment of cattle production, but this comes from a confessed cattle agnerd, so what do I know? Now if I can just get my cows to text me when they’re in heat…
Do you have any questions about semen collection of bulls or use of artificial insemination in cattle?
(Thanks to Select Sires for the numbers and information on semen collection)
Let’s face it… Farming is a business. To operate, a business must turn some kind of a profit. In the cattle business, reproduction is one of the most important economic traits. More important than growth, production, or carcass performance. If a cow fails to have a calf on the ground every year, something is missing.
Reproductive traits are some of the least heritable in the cow herd, but there are management tools we can use to improve our success.
At a Farm Field Day this summer, one of my professors gave these lists for Top 10 reasons for reproductive failure in cows and bulls. These are all serious things that we can manage in the cow herd, but we can have a little fun talking about it once in a while. Right?
Top 10 reasons your cow is open
10 – She cycles like a ninja (silent heat)
9 – Sperm and oocyte cannot meet (blocked oviducts)
8 – Failure to launch (cystic follicle that will not ovulate)
7 – Bad behavior (cortisol from stressed cow or bad handling)
6 – She’s not feeling well (disease, manage that health and nutrition)
5 – Exposure to environmental toxins (fescue endophyte)
4 – She’s too hot to handle (heat stress)
3 – She has a mineral imbalance (pay attention to clinical and sub-clinical)
2 – She lost her calf (embryonic or fetal loss)
1 – She’s not eating her Wheaties (nutrition)
Top 10 reasons your bull is a dud
10 – Cows? What cows? (vision important to seeing estrus activity)
9 – His penis looks strange and will not work (injury)
8 – I’ve seen volcanoes cooler than this (heat stress, sperm quality, activity)
7 – He’s not feeling well (disease, environmental toxins)
6 – Scrotum looks a bit small (small testis – sperm factory)
5 – The bull likes… Bulls? ( libido – requires observation to detect)
4 – Shooting blanks (low sperm concentration, related to small testis or nutrition)
3 – His sperm are weird shaped or have no tails (depleted reserves, poor morphology)
2 – He needs a walker to get to the cows (foot and leg problems)
1 – He carries a sign “Will breed for food” (under-fed and/or minerals)
This is just a short list of the issues we face when managing cattle and the order is not definite. What other issues when managing cattle reproductive problems do you encounter?
As I progress through the semester I will be covering many subjects of beef cattle management. Since my actual program of study is cattle reproduction, these topics will be in there. Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to include them.