When you think of a breeding season, you think of the time that you turn the bull out to the time you remove the bull from your herd. Now, if you never pull your bulls away from your cows do you consider that a “controlled breeding season”?
In most cases now, cattle sales do not make up the bulk of a families household income. And because of that, certain management strategies do not always make sense for every producer. In the case of a controlled breeding season, there is no “ideal” breeding season length. There are suggestions on how long a breeding season should be, with the most common being 60 to 120 days. But as long as you understand the benefits to a controlled breeding season and can utilize those benefits above and beyond what you are currently doing, then you are making a difference in your operation.
Marketing. If you do not remove bulls from the cowherd at some point during the breeding season, you end up with a calving season that does not end. This is extremely detrimental to the true value of your calves realized through marketing. By limiting the exposure that a bull has with your cows, you can dictate calving at a more ideal time of year that suits you, the producer, and the markets. By shortening the breeding season, you create more uniform lots of calves for marketing.
Timing. Timing and the length of your breeding season can play a big role on how you manage the body condition of those cows. It is critical that your cows calve in good body condition in order for them to have a short postpartum recovery period so that a majority of them are cycling before the breeding season. Optimum body condition score at calving and at breeding should be somewhere between a 5 and 6. In the southeast, our spring calving cows typically go into the breeding season sometime in April/May, when there is a controlled breeding season. During this time there is an abundance of cool-season forages that are typically of higher quality than our warm-season forages and cattle can recover from calving and reach a minimum body condition score of 5 at breeding. However, if you have a longer breeding season and it overlaps with hay feeding, typically supplementation is required because most of our warm-season grass hay does not meet the nutrient requirements for a lactating cow. Thus, your cost of production goes up.
Yearly Cycle. The average gestation length of a cow is approximately 283 days. So for a cow to become pregnant and calve on a yearly basis she will need to become pregnant within 90 days of calving. If you have a 120 day calving season, you will have some cows calving at the same time that you start the breeding season. By the time she starts cycling, you may be 60 to 90 days into your breeding season, hoping you get her bred on her first heat. If she takes 3 heats to get bred, then that cow becomes pregnant 100 to 120 days or more into your breeding season. That cow is now on a schedule to calve every 13 months and will likely calve later year after year. A 60-day breeding season is very doable. After the last calf is born, all cows will have had at least 30 days to recover before the breeding season. Therefore, a higher percentage of cows have an opportunity to become pregnant at the start of the breeding season! And always remember, tools such as estrous synchronization and AI allow you to get a majority of your cows a chance to get bred on the first day of the breeding season, allowing 1 extra opportunity for them to conceive early on.
Planning. In order to have a controlled breeding season, you have to plan. Planning helps you set goals such as when you want to start and end the breeding season. For example, if you currently have a 150-day breeding season and want to shorten it, shorten the number of days the bulls are with the cows on the beginning and end of the breeding season. For example, if currently your 150-day breeding season begins March 1st and ends July 31st, then begin by turning your bulls out March 15th and then pull your bulls on July 15th, and reduce you breeding season by 30 days each year until you reach your desired length of time. This can be done many different ways and it doesn’t have to be 30 days each year. You can start off with shortening it just 15 or 20 days each year. As long as you work to shorten it to your desired length each year, you will reach your goals. Oh, and one last thing, don’t keep your open cows. Strategic culling of late calving and open cows will assist in reducing the breeding and calving seasons, and improve overall fertility in your herd.