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Cow herds can excel with strong genetic selection and an excellent nutrition program.
When selecting cattle for ranches in less-than-ideal environments, Spangler says, several factors are of importance. The first factor to consider, he says, is mature size (weight).
“Several breeds have mature size EPDs, through which a producer can select for optimal mature size,” he says. “As you might expect, reducing mature size can reduce the maintenance energy requirements.”
Another possibly unexpected EPD to consider is maternal milk.
“Every breed has a published maternal milk EPD, which is the maternal component of weaning weight,” Spangler says. “We know when cows are in production or lactating, they are requiring more nutrients. While it may not be well understood by producers, if cows have the genetic propensity to milk heavily, they require more nutrition, even when they’re dry. This is due to larger visceral organ size.”
Therefore, Spangler says, it’s important for a producer to match the genetics to the environment.
“If a producer is in an environment with limited resources, it’s important for them to select for more moderate mature size and milk potential,” he says. “These two traits are key. Because when feed is limited, stress is high.”
Depending on the breed, additional EPDs and indexes may be available to assist producers in genetic selection, Spangler says.
“The Red Angus breed offers a maintenance energy EPD, which is measured in terms of mega calories per month of energy required for maintenance,” he says. “People who use Red Angus bulls can select for lower maintenance energy EPDs if feed costs in their cowherd are a concern. The Angus breed offers a suite of economic indexes, one of which is the Cow Energy Value, measured in savings per cow per year.”
Once the proper genetics for a location are chosen, it’s essential to focus on the nutrition of the whole herd, both on the ground and in the womb.
Cosby says sometimes producers and their practitioners focus on short-term economics of a nutrition program, overlooking the impacts of nutrition to gestating calves. Therefore, it’s critical for veterinarians to develop an understanding and work to educate their clients on the benefits.
“The cow carrying the calf can have an effect on the calf before it’s born,” he says. “If you’re fall calving in the Central Plains or Upper Midwest, you can see a tough body condition score of 4 or below in February or March. Their calf is probably being creep fed. In the period when the cow drops weight and before she gains rapidly when the grass comes on, next fall’s calf could be affected, which is part of the gestational nutrition theory.”
However, maintaining a 5 to 6 body condition score throughout the year can lead to greater reproductive performance.
“Calf production increases and feed supplement usage may be reduced because it takes more feed to get a cow back in shape than it does to maintain her,” he says.
A client’s success can often be tied back to one overlying theory: cooperation.