April 12, 2000 | By: Aimee D. Heald

It's about time for beef breeding season to begin in Kentucky. The breeding season traditionally is an important time for producers and could impact beef profitability in 2001.

"Breeding season is a time when the size and quality of next year's calf-crop is determined," John Anderson, Extension agricultural economist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, said. "Given the importance of this time of year to the overall economic well-being of the beef operation, it is worthwhile to give some extra thought to the kinds of management that could improve efficiency in beef herds."

Every aspect of beef cattle management will have an impact on the herd's reproductive efficiency. Take herd health and nutrition programs, both directly influence calving percentages. Adequate nutrition is vital for a breeding herd, since cows in poor condition are not likely to conceive. Adequate herd health programs are crucial, since common diseases can prevent cows from maintaining healthy pregnancies.

"To put the importance of proper nutrition and health programs in perspective, consider that in a 50-cow herd, a 10 percent increase in calving percentage corresponds to an additional five calves – or using last fall's prices – about $2,500," Anderson said. "That is an additional $50 per cow in returns. Clearly, that amount can be the difference between making a profit and going out of business."

Another factor that can have a dramatic impact on calving rates, and on beef operation returns, is the fertility of the herd bull. A good way to make sure a bull is ready-to-go for breeding season is a breeding soundness evaluation. Anderson believes the evaluation is a simple and inexpensive way to realize a bull's potential. After all, even a marginal improvement in calving percentage can have a dramatic impact on the beef operation's bottom line.

When thinking about bulls, another important consideration is bull quality. Herd production records from several central Kentucky farms indicate that on average, performance-tested bulls or bulls with known EPDs, weaned calves 58 pounds heavier than bulls of unknown or unverified genetics. On just 20 calves, that amounts to a total weight difference of more than 1,100 pounds.

"Buying an inexpensive bull often can be the last way you want to try to save money," Anderson warned. "Saving $500 on a questionable bull can easily cost you more than $1,000 in lost revenue in a single year."

Managing a beef herd for maximum reproductive efficiency is a complex task. The UK College of Agriculture and the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service have a variety of resources available to help with any aspect of beef-herd management. Contact your local county Extension office with any questions.


John Anderson 859-257-7273