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  • Megan Silveira, associate editor

Investing in Breeding Season

A nutrition plan for your herd is worth every penny.

The relationship between a successful breeding season and an operation’s nutrition plan is a bit of a math equation, said Dusty Abney, technical consultant for Cargill Animal Nutrition, at the 2021 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Winter Reboot.

Abney said he, like most cattlemen, is always on the lookout what for management options best suit his pocketbook. Still, he warns producers “cheap” does not have the same definition as “economic.”

“It’s not always about what’s the cheapest,” he said, “but what is the best bang for your buck.”

Abney said the goal is to discover the minimum time and capital a producer can spend on nutrition to allow the cows to do what they are supposed to do.

To make money in the cattle business, however, Abney said some investment is required. He said producers should not expect their livestock to perform if they are not meeting those animals’ nutritional requirements.

Anna Taylor, head of innovation and technology at Cargill Animal Nutrition, spoke alongside Abney at the reboot and said investing in a good nutrition program today can set an operation up for success in the future.

She explains cows without proper nutrients cannot grow or maintain a pregnancy, preventing a producer from making any type of profit. She warns producers against getting in the mindset that this cycle of unproductivity is the animal’s fault, however.

“If we’re not setting them up with enough calories to grow, is that their fault or our fault as managers?” she asked.

One of the most practical ways to measure the success of a nutrition plan is to look at body condition score (BCS), Taylor said.

Abney said producers will need to be extremely honest with themselves when they evaluate the BCS of their livestock. Despite wanting to spare a few dollars by holding back investments in a nutrition program, Abney said being frugal is not worth it when it comes to reproductive improvement in the herd.

“Not keeping your cows in good body condition or playing the yo-yo game of trying to catch up at different times during the breeding season will have a negative effect on your bottom line,” he explains.

He said it’s important producers consider where a cow is in the reproduction cycle when evaluating her nutrition, as she will demand more nutritionally in the third trimester but need less in the second trimester.

Cattle can easily become too thin or too fat to perform the way they are expected to, and Taylor encourages a majority of producers to aim for a BCS of 5 or 6 in their herd.

“This is a good target, but it’s not always possible or practical,” she explains. “You have to find out what is practical for you and your operation.”

While there will be some cattle that cannot perform in the set environment, Taylor said an increasing plane of nutrition typically always has positive benefits.

The duo describes a good nutrition program as one that meets a cow’s individual nutritional requirements (both with supplemental feed and forage), provides constant access to a forage base, includes constant mineral supplementation and is fit to match both the environment of the operation and the ebb and flow of the production cycle of the cow.

Abney reminds producers they are consistently responsible for helping to ensure their cattle are performing at the highest level, and ultimately, it is up to the cattleman to invest in their livestock and their own success.

“If you want to make money in the cattle business, you have to invest some money in the cow,” he said.

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