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Does CRYSTALYX® pencil out for reproductive efficiency? Part 2

As Jon Albro outlined in the first part of “Does CRYSTALYX® pencil out for reproductive efficiency?”, there are multiple ways to measure reproductive performance. For this next blog in the series, I will shine a light on heifer development, bull fertility and how managing body condition can lay the foundation for reproductive success.  

Body condition score (BCS)

As we travel down the different paths of reproductive efficiencies and evaluate different groups in our herds, body condition score (BCS) is one common trait that always needs to stay in check. This applies to your heifers, bulls and mature cows, because BCS can affect both this year’s and next year’s calf crops. Paying close attention to your herd’s overall BCS will pay dividends in the end. Cattle that are displaying a thin body condition at calving time are slower to rebreed, produce less colostrum and may not have sufficient nutrient reserves for optimal milk production, which can affect the performance and health of the calves at their side. The best times to assess BCS are prior to calving (~90–100 days before) and at calving, breeding and weaning.

CRYSTALYX® created our Beef Cow Body Condition Score app as a resource to help you evaluate the BCS of your herd. The app allows you to organize and track cows individually or by pasture group, view stats on animals and pastures over time, and export data in CSV format via email for further analysis. Simply photograph a cow, enter its ear tag into the system and, if you want, assign it to a pasture. Compare your individual cows’ photos to the reference photos provided for each condition score — or supply your own reference photos — and assign a score to each cow. I’d encourage any producer to download the app to begin managing and tracking their herd’s BCS.

Make it pencil out


The table featured here, which was included in an extension paper from Kansas State University, does a good job of illustrating why BCS is so important, especially if you compare a BCS of 4 and 5 in terms of their correlated pregnancy rates. Generally, assuming this was a group of 100 cows, you would expect to have 25 more calves on the ground. Even if you don’t consider the clear advantages of a higher BCS in terms of the calf ADG and weaning weights, if they held the weaning weight constant at 450 lbs., producers could reap a profit of up to $28,700 more from their annual calf crop when their herd BCS is at a 5 compared to a 4.

Supplementing when the forage becomes dormant and starts failing to meet the nutritional requirements of the cattle is key to help ensure that their BCS scores do not fall. A CRYSTALYX® protein supplement can help with forage intake and digestion, allowing for more energy to be released from the diet. The average cost of a CRYSTALYX protein barrel is 45–50 cents per head per day, costing a producer roughly $75 per head to supplement a cow for 150 days. That pencils out to an ROI of around $3.82 to keep those cattle in a more profitable BCS using a CRYSTALYX® supplement program that’s available 24/7, which also helps minimize your investment in terms of time, labor and equipment.

Mineral supplementation has a positive impact on all of the most profitable production traits. Based on the current calf market, as well as what is being predicted for the future, now is the time to improve your mineral program to ensure that your cattle will perform optimally. The CRYSTALYX line of Blueprint® solutions is the next step in cattle nutrition, utilizing only 100% organic trace minerals in the form of Bioplex® from Alltech. Blueprint focuses more on the quality of the trace mineral supplemented than on the amount. Our goal of helping producers achieve peak performance without needing to supplement in excess led us to remove sulfates and oxides from the Blueprint formula. This also helps producers avoid the antagonistic effects that can manifest when too many inorganic sources are used in conjunction with each other.  

The economic benefits illustrated above are proof of why we believe Blueprint is the future of supplementation. Compared to a typical inorganic program, switching to Blueprint can add an additional 2–4 cents per head per day to the mineral bill.

When you factor in the increase in weaning weights (an average of 24 lbs.), conception rates (an average of 2.7%) and calf health (preweaning death losses dropped by 2.1%, on average), choosing quality over quantity with Blueprint allows producers to boost their performance while also penciling in bigger profits at year’s end.

Heifer development

When it comes to genetic progression, your replacement heifers are in the driver’s seat. If you are purchasing or retaining heifers from your own herd, utilizing the proper selection and nutritional development of these heifers will be your best insurance for these investments. When selecting heifers, physical traits — such as their general structure, rib shape, femininity and teat structure — are extremely important. If possible, research the genetic makeup of those females, and try to keep ones that come from dams that wean their calves heavy year after year, have pretty udders and come from cow families that are known for longevity.

Making sure your heifers are on the right plane of nutrition is key at breeding. It’s best to grow these females in a similar setting to what they will experience as mature cows. Growing heifers out on a low-input, forage-based diet allows you to see which ones can perform in this type of environment and helps you avoid “pushing” extra grain to put weight on the females. Not only is pushing grain to these heifers more expensive, but heifers that develop too fast can also have trouble breeding and start dropping fat back in their udders, which will negatively affect their milk production long-term.   

The University of Florida did a study over multiple years comparing a group of heifers supplemented with 100% organic trace minerals in the form of Blueprint to a group supplemented with inorganic trace minerals. The advantages that were shown in the increased ADG and BCS of the Blueprint group gave them an edge in terms of their physical performance — and the Blueprint group also outperformed their contemporaries in terms of their reproductive efficiencies.

Additionally, the heifers in both groups were kept back and developed to be bred the following year. In year one, the organic group was supplemented with Blueprint 90 days prior to calving through weaning, and those heifers reached puberty nine days earlier and were confirmed bred eight days earlier than the females from the inorganic group. In year two, the organic mineral group received Blueprint through the entire cycle, from conception to gestation to weaning. The heifers from the Blueprint group in year two reached puberty 41 days earlier and were confirmed pregnant 18 days earlier than the heifers from the inorganic group. 

To put these benefits in context, if your heifers are confirmed pregnant 18 days earlier, their calves should be around 40 pounds heavier at weaning time, which would be worth around $100 this year. Furthermore, even if moving to a Blueprint program cost you an additional 4 cents per head per day than an inorganic mineral program, that only amounts to an additional $15 per head per year — but with the improved weaning weight performance alone, the return on investment with Blueprint in this scenario would be around 6.6:1. That doesn’t even take into consideration that heifers bred earlier in the breeding season typically stay in the herd longer and wean more pounds throughout their lifetime.

Bull fertility

Bulls contribute 50% of the genetic makeup of your calf crop, which makes them an investment you do not want to skimp on. A good rule of thumb is to value a bull at what five of his calves would be worth. For instance, if your production goal is to sell weaned calves right now, with 500-lb. calves fetching around $2.50 per lb., that would mean the bull is worth $6,250 ($2.50 x 500 lbs. x five head). Additionally, the more years of service you can get out of a bull, the more his cost per calf goes down. Assuming he breeds 25 head per year, in the first year, that would cost $250 per calf — but by year three, that number would decrease to $83.33 per calf, and if you get could get six years of service out of that bull, his cost per calf would go down to $41.67.

The first question that pops into most producers’ heads when they hear cows are open is, “What is wrong with my cows?” It takes two to tango, so it is important to ensure that bulls are at peak performance before turning them out in order to get more potential seasons of service out of our herd sires. 

Producers should make sure their herd sire has passed a breeding soundness exam (BSE) 45 to 60 days prior to the breeding season. The BSE will not only evaluate the physical attributes of the bull but will also evaluate the quality and motility of the semen he produces. To ensure that the bull has the best chance of passing his BSE, producers should aim for a target BCS of 6 and put their bulls on a good mineral program, as trace mineral deficiencies can have a negative impact on hormone production and semen volume and motility.

Cowherds are already expensive to manage, and with today’s interest rates, money is not cheap. Contact your local dealer and sales representative to see which CRYSTALYX products fit your operation’s needs so that you can stay in the green year after year.