Cow Longevity Unlocks Market Opportunities

Management : Cow & Calf

Nutrition : Minerals

Nutrition : Supplements

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Purina Animal Nutrition

The current low national cow inventory opens up opportunities for producers who emphasize longevity in their herds. Once the industry shifts to rebuilding mode, replacement cow prices could increase. Retaining cows in your herd is a great way to minimize costs in the future.

These rebuilding market conditions can also provide an additional source of income for producers who maximize cow longevity. The more cows you keep in the herd, the fewer calves you have to keep back as replacements. Research has shown that a cow has only paid for herself and can start returning a profit to the business by 6 years of age, as long as she is productive those previous years.[1Culling a cow before that time can result in lost profit and impact business sustainability in the long run. Yet, many cows are culled early due to fertility issues, temperament or other unforeseen challenges.

Give cows every possible chance to stay in the herd and maximize market opportunities with these tips:

Reduce the number of open cows

According to the USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System survey, 40.5% of all cull cows leave the herd due to pregnancy status.[2] Focusing on nutrition can help support breeding efficiency and decrease the number of open cows.

Reproduction is one of the first processes to falter if cows aren’t in appropriate body condition score (BCS). It’s a natural defense mechanism for animals to ensure they have enough body condition to maintain themselves and support a live calf. Providing adequate energy and protein levels in the pre-breeding diet is essential to help boost conception rates.

Cows should have no less than a body condition score of 5.5 at the start of the breeding season and a body condition score of 6 at calving. Take scores 60-90 days prior to breeding season to allow time to adjust your nutrition plan if cows are under-conditioned.

Year-round vitamin and mineral supplementation is also essential to ensure you’re meeting cows’ requirements for macro and micro minerals, which are not only important for staying in good condition but also help support reproductive function.

Be picky when selecting replacement heifers

How early a replacement heifer calves in her first calving cycle can influence her ability to stay in the herd during subsequent calving seasons. Data showed that heifers that calve early in the season with their first calf have increased longevity in the herd compared to heifers that calve later in the calving season.[3]

Heifers that conceive late in the breeding season and subsequently calve late in the calving cycle typically don’t have enough time to rebreed during a defined breeding season and are often culled from the herd.[3]

Getting heifers bred on time and only keeping first-calf heifers that calved early in their first calving season, when possible, can help extend the longevity of your cow herd and help you receive a return on your investment in your replacement animals.

Dial in genetics

Longevity isn’t a highly heritable trait because so many factors impact how long a cow stays in the herd. However, there are some things you can do from a genetic standpoint to improve cow longevity in your herd.

Crossbreeding is an effective strategy to help boost the longevity of your cows. The heterosis or hybrid vigor you can get from crossbreeding can help improve the both the longevity and productivity of the herd.

Breeding for well-formed udders, teat placement and structural soundness, including feet and legs, is also vital to set cows up so they stay in the herd longer. Structurally sound cows often stay healthier, have fewer problems nursing calves and are less likely to break down as they age. The last thing you want is to cull an otherwise profitable cow because she has feet and leg issues.

While less common, temperament is another early-culling factor that genetics can influence. Consider culling bad-tempered cows, not only for safety, but to remove her genetics from the herd and selectively using the right bulls to correct bad behaviors and ensure replacement females stay in the herd longer.

Manage cows in groups

If you have the available pasture and labor, separating cows into groups by age can be an effective strategy. This helps ensure each group receives the nutritional support they need at different life stages to maintain body condition and stay in the herd longer.

Cows continue to grow until they’re around 4 years old. During those first few years, their nutrient demands are higher than older cows because they’re working to maintain body weight, while growing and supporting a calf. Dedicating more nutrients to this group of cows helps ensure they can reach their genetic potential and aren’t culled before they can return a profit.

As cows get older, you may start seeing problems with their teeth making them less efficient and effective grazers. Alternative or supplemental energy sources can help them stay in the needed body condition to continue breeding back each year.

The longer a cow stays in the herd, the more profit she returns to the business. By increasing the longevity of your cow herd, you can take advantage of market opportunities and help secure the sustainability of your business.

Does your cattle nutrition program stack up? Find out with a Proof Pays trial.
[1] Karisch, B. October 2014. Determining replacement rates in your herd: How many to keep and cull? Cattle Business in Mississippi.
[2] USDA. 2020. Beef 2017, “Beef Cow-calf Health and Management Practices in the United States, 2017, report 2.” USDA–APHIS–VS–CEAH–NAHMS. Fort Collins, CO.
[3] Cushman, RA; Kill, LK; Funston, RN; Mousel, EM; and Perry, GA. 2013. Heifer calving date positively influences calf weaning weights through six parturitions. West Central Research and Extension Center, North Platte.