5 Tips to Help Ensure Cow Longevity

Developing and maintaining a herd with the key profit driver


By Rebecca Mettler
Reprint from the Joplin Stockyards Cattlemen's News.

Cow longevity is a key profit driver in cow-calf operations. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if a producer has purchased the perfect bull for their operation if the cows remain open because of poor cowherd fertility. Instead, developing and maintaining a herd with enhanced longevity should be a top item on producers’ minds when setting goals for the new year ahead.
While proper nutrition and sound vaccination protocols for reproductive diseases are essential pieces of the puzzle, producers should also focus on making genetic improvements to fertility and other longevity related factors.
Too often when producers looking at genetic predictions, e.g., expected progeny differences (EPDs) and indexes, they look at growth and carcass traits. But as an industry, we often don’t think about traits to improve our long-term employees—our cows, according to Jared Decker, University of Missouri beef geneticist. Fortunately, there are now genetic predictions to improve the performance of mature cows, as outlined in several of Decker’s top five tips for longevity.

1. Stayability and Sustained Cow Fertility
First, there is now an EPD for cow longevity called Stayability (STAY) or Sustained Cow Fertility (SCF), depending on the breed association. Stayability is an EPD from International Genetic Solutions (IGS) multibreed evaluation, which has several partner breed associations, including American Simmental Association (ASA), Red Angus Association of America (RAAA), American Gelbvieh Association, and others. The EPD measures the probability that a bull’s daughters will be productive past 6 years of age. Another example is the American Hereford Association’s (AHA) Sustained Cow Fertility EPD, which measures the probability a bull’s daughters will be productive past 12 years of age. These EPDs help identify cows that have the fertility and structure to stay in the herd for a long time. 

“This is probably the most important trait when selecting cows with staying power. Unfortunately, it is likely one of the most overlooked traits when producers are looking for their next bull,” Decker said.

Decker believes this is an overlooked trait because it’s easy for producers to get focused on items that affect revenue instead of focusing on things that improve profit.

“Costs have gotten high (around $900 per cow) so finding cows that stay in the herd longer reduce the costs of needing replacements.”

2. Mature Weight
Mature weight is important, because of the simple fact that larger cows eat more feed. Mature Weight EPDs predict genetic differences in the mature size of cows.

“Managing for mature weight is so important for producers because cows that are moderate in size are better able to maintain their condition and get bred.”

According to Decker, utilizing a terminal crossbreeding program balances the need for maintaining a moderately sized cowherd while focusing on growth traits for terminal progeny. For a smaller producer, it would require purchasing moderately sized crossbred replacement females with strong maternal traits.

“The cows then fit the feed recourses and the added growth can come from a terminal sire,” Decker explained.

3. Indexes 
 A selection index combines several traits into a single value to allow genetic improvement based on economic return to the operation. Indexes provide a more simplified approach to genetic selection when compared to looking at individual EPD traits because indexes are expressed in dollars and again, combine many traits into one. 
The American Angus Association (AAA) updated their indexes in 2019, so it’s a good idea for producers to review the index components. The new Maternal Weaned Calf Value ($M) takes into account foot angle and claw set, which measure the soundness of an animal. Cows with better feet cause fewer problems and should stay in the herd longer. This index also accounts for differences in mature weight, docility, and calving ease maternal. This index does a better job accounting for traits of mature cows when selecting bulls and females compared to previous Angus indexes, according to Decker.
General purpose indexes, such as Baldy Maternal Index (BMI) published by AHA, Herd Builder (HB), published by RAAA and All Purpose Index (API), published by ASA, also account for mature cow traits, such as stayability, when making selection decisions.

4. Crossbreeding
When selecting for cows that stay in the herd longer, don’t forget the value of a planned crossbreeding system. Planned crossbreeding, in which producers purchase or breed crossbreed females, produces cows with improved maternal ability. In a planned crossbreeding program, two or three breeds are used year after year to produce a consistent calf crop.

“Crossbreed cows are more fertile compared to the average of their purebred parents, are 24% more productive in their lifetime, and most of this comes from improved fertility,” Decker said.

5. Milk
Just like the trend that mature sizes have gotten too large, in many situations, the genetic potential for maternal growth, also known as Milk, is too high in some herds. If producers are having problems with cows becoming poorer conditioned and failing to rebreed, the milk potential of the herd may be too high, according to Decker.

Decker pointed out that AAA has an optimal milk online module that is a good resource for commercial producers who purchase Angus bulls. The module can help producers find the optimal level of milk for a cowherd to balance calf performance and cowherd efficiency.

Bottom Line Cowherd longevity is one of the most economically important traits on a cow-calf operation. It’s also a hard trait to zero in on because of all of the factors that attribute to longevity, or lack thereof. However, with the tips above, producers can positively affect cowherd longevity through genetic selection and management practices. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

EPDs 101: Use Information to Improve Your Herd

Bob Hough Comments on Changes at Breed Associations

New Show-Me-Select Sire EPD Requirements Announced