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CRYSTALYX in beef breeding programs and systems

Beef breeding programs, and all the components therein, can be a broad and complex subject. The definitions we use, as well as the names we assign to components of those breeding programs, can be confusing and are often simply taken out of context. Talking points that sound similar — such as conception rates and pregnancy rates, or fertility and reproductive efficiency — actually mean two different things. Likewise, breeding programs are not really breeding systems, and vice versa. Once again, this subject varies as much as or perhaps even more than the total genetic selection criteria beef producers must choose from. Programs can vary by selection criteria, whether animals are artificially or naturally bred, estrus synchronization, embryo transfer, breeding seasons and length, etc.

This article will not make judgments about which breeding systems, programs or breeds are better or worse, as I believe they all have value when properly applied. Instead, I’d like to discuss where CRYSTALYX® fits as a supplement for breeding animals and share some of the positive results stemming from the components of these various programs.

RELATED: Maximizing bull fertility and performance

When is the breeding season, and what is the forage condition at that time?

I’m not sure that we have a true calendar breeding or calving season anymore. While certain regions of the country may have more traditional seasons, spring and fall calving can’t really be defined by the calendar. These days, we see calves being born from January to June and starting up again in August. As such, nutrition programs at breeding will vary based on when cows are bred and what type of feed resources are offered at that time. For example, if the breeding season falls at a time of year when forage quality is low (such as in the fall, for a late spring or early summer calving date), our CRYSTALYX programs should provide some protein, along with a high-quality mineral package. If breeding occurs in the spring or summer months, however, producers should utilize a CRYSTALYX mineral product or a combination with a fly control. Products that contain Bioplex® organic trace minerals, including CRYSTALYX Breed-Up or Blueprint®, work well in these programs and are strongly recommended at any time.

CRYSTALYX in intensive breeding programs

Some of the most memorable experiences we’ve had working with producers include seeing the positive outcomes provided by using CRYSTALYX in intensive breeding programs. With embryo transfer and flush programs, producers have reported higher-quality eggs, as well as more high-graded eggs. In artificial insemination programs (A.I.) — especially those using timed A.I. and estrus synchronization — the percentage of animals being bred in the first “clean-up” cycle can increase, meaning fewer late-bred animals. In these applications, CRYSTALYX products were provided as the main source of minerals and organic trace minerals.

The nutritionist in me always wants to ask: why do we see an improvement in various production parameters using CRYSTALYX versus other types of free-choice supplements, which are supposed to be delivering the same nutrition? The key differences here are consistent intake and supplement management. CRYSTALYX tends to be consumed more consistently and by a higher percentage of animals than many other free-choice supplements. Meeting energy requirements is also very important in pre- and post-breeding programs. CRYSTALYX does not add large amounts of energy; rather, it promotes the consistent intake of all nutrients and improves the digestibility of the diet, significantly impacting overall energy status. The results of a study conducted on a North Dakota operation in 2015 using CRYSTALYX Breed-Up Omega with 500 heifers post-A.I. breeding on pasture indicated a marked improvement in the overall pregnancy rate, as well as fewer late-bred animals, in comparison to historical performance with only a dry mineral supplement. Additionally, 90 percent of the heifers were bred, and only three percent bred late (in the second cycle following A.I.). These results suggest that the heifers’ energy status post-breeding improved and that embryonic mortality decreased. The animals who failed to breed artificially were bred in the next cycle by clean-up bulls, and even fewer animals bred late. As a result, this North Dakota operation has used CRYSTALYX in the same program every year since conducting this study.

What kind of mineral supplementation works best during breeding, and how have these programs changed?

This is a loaded question. First and foremost, no matter which mineral supplement program is implemented, it must be properly managed and consumed. CRYSTALYX is easy to use, eliminates waste and increases consistent intake across the cow herd in grazing situations, taking a lot of the guess-work out of the equation. Still, the type of mineral being fed — especially trace minerals, such as zinc, copper, manganese and cobalt — is very important. In the past, if these minerals were offered, they may have only been in the form of trace mineral salt, which is basically just a more expensive salt program, not a good mineral program. As mineral programs improved, however, more trace minerals were being offered, primarily in inorganic forms. When organic minerals began to be added to beef cattle programs, they were primarily used with intensive breeding programs in the presence of a severe deficiency or an environmental antagonist. 

Breeding success and Blueprint

Over the years, many producers have cited better pregnancy rates when using CRYSTALYX mineral products with organic trace minerals. Now, with CRYSTALYX Blueprint programs using 100 percent of the trace minerals from Bioplex, we are seeing even better results. One ranch in Nebraska saw their pregnancy rates improve from 94 to 97 percent when using Blueprint programs in their first season.

RELATED: Nebraska Ranch Blueprint Testimonial

Good breeding success in beef cattle programs can be hard to define. I’ve had some producers tell me that they have pregnancy rates of 100 percent, but they later joke that their bull is turned in year-round and that they have a year-round calving season. Improving to a 94 percent or higher pregnancy rate in cattle via nutrition (as in the Nebraska example mentioned previously) is hard to do and even harder to promise; it takes good management and good nutrition. Part of the success of CRYSTALYX Blueprint programs can be credited to the fact that inorganic trace minerals are removed from the diet and are replaced by Bioplex organic sources. Nutritionists and producers alike are learning more about how this new nutritional concept can help breeding programs and improve overall performance. A good measure of overall success is how many animals breed on the first cycle of the breeding season, which improves calving distribution and contributes to a more uniform and healthy calf crop.