From the January / Febuary Beef Route Letter
All my life with cattle we have been remorsely hammered with articles and advice telling us we must get more “efficient” and more “productive”. How did we do?
Hippocrates, the famous Greek originator of scientific medicine, is quoted:
“I defy you to name a disease that does not go back to poor nutrition.”
Today, with all the emphasis on looking at the DNA to find excuses for poor performance, and as much as I am a “genetics” (selection and mating) sort of guy, I am seeing more articles from noted ranchers in publications like Stockman Grass Farmer that demonstrate that nutritional support on a consistent, daily basis is the best preventative to problems in that most unique ruminant digestive system that is capable of all the “efficiency” in feed resources we needed.
Is “infertility” a disease ?
For any cattle operation, your forage program is the foundation of the feed ration, the source of nutrition on which health (and therefore fertility) is based. No amount of grain and other supplements (originally identified to stimulate weight gain) can replace what is lacking in our forages. As for the potential feed value of any forages we grow, the basis is in the biological health and mineralization levels of the soil.
So what role does genetic selection play in fertility ?
We have not been consistent in our industry in correlating animal genetics with plant genetics. There is as much difference in grass varieties as there is in alfalfa, wheat, soybeans and corn, the only variability being where in the world the breeding emphasis is placed for each species. For the cow-calf operator, especially those who are also grain farmers, it is surprising how many are exacting in their choice of grain seeds, but indifferent to the potential of improved forages.
Inherited factors will make some animals better, and others worse, in the fertility results you may see from the baseline of your average experience. But that baseline is mostly affected by the health of the soil and the quality of forages both when grazed or when harvested.
The emphasis in the DNA area is to cull the lowest (chronic) reproductive failures, assuming this eliminates future low-fertility heifers from propogating. However, our data always seems to show that new animals step up to “fail” in the place of those we cull (er, “harvest for meat”). This could prove that infertility is as much environmental as genetic, and you need a strategy for sorting between the two, perhaps forgiving the cow whose failure is “not her fault”.
Drug and hormonal aids to fertility, promoted through veterinarians as more “efficient” tools to insure maximum reproduction, besides increasing out of pocket costs, tend to accept a level of failure as “normal” (ie, not moving your annual baseline average compared to natural repro).
How big a role does nutrition play in fertility ?
The key to ruminant nutrition is to meet the energy requirement for growth, reproduction and health every day. The Eubiotic population in the rumen that digests the various forms of fiber and starch (producing proteins along the way) has to be fed every day to remain viable and for microflora populations to reproduce and grow. Anything that produces a variable feed energy intake (as in fluctuation in forage quality) is going to have a negative impact on fertility. When feed intake is inadequate to the genetically-programmed energy demands, some aspect of the cow will suffer—usually reproduction first, growth second, health third.
Many ranching-oriented advisors from around the world (the late Gearld Fry, the well-travelled Johann Zeitsman, et al) focused on “body condition” as one of the key genetic selection traits. Their ideal cow would have the same body condition score all year long, and this sort of cow is proven to be the most consistently fertile. Cows who milk down supporting a growthy calf are recognized as slower to rebreed. The variation within breeds is greater than the differences between breeds, suggesting that some of our linebreeding for performance measured primarily in feedlot rate of gain could have negative impacts in maintaining optimal maternal quality, of which even-tempered dispositions and responsive fertility character is observed to go together.
In other words, genetics may create the possibility of a positive (or negative) result individually, but your overall herd performance (maximizing live calvings and cow retention for rebreeding) determines your profitability, whether weaning 550 pound calves or 700 pound calves. If one cow herd can produce 550 pound weanlings on grass alone, while another produces 700 pound weanlings with the aid of a ton of supplement per cow-calf unit, who made more money? But for the grain farmer, having cattle to utilize surplus grain makes those highest genetic ranking cattle lines of more value to him. In other words, “one size fits all” just doesn’t fit reality. In the meantime, genetic choices do affect whether the right cattle are being utilized to adapt to the total environment you are creating for them.
Do you desire more profitability from your forage base ?
Byron Seeds is a forage-oriented seed distribution company, drawing from seed sources around the world to acquire better varieties of grasses, legumes, forbs, small grains, and feeding corns. Even more importantly, they provide training to their Dealers to understand the biology within the soil, a key element in insuring consistent plant performance; the functions of soil organic matter in water-holding capacity and assimilation of humics from any applied manures; cover crops that stimulate fertility capture and lead us to 365-day field crop productivity.
If you sense a need to restore pastures that no longer meet your animal’s needs, ask us for the seed combinations that can accomplish this. The best corn ever grown is in its first season following a spent hay field or pasture. Weedy corn fields can be restored from forage crops.
There is some remaining discount available (through March prepaid orders) on your spring seed needs. Ask for a copy of the Byron Seeds’ “Winter Pre Pay Guide”.