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The dummies guide to fetal programming

If you are in the beef business and have not read an article mentioning fetal programing, or, if you have not heard someone speak on fetal programming at an industry meeting, you may need to get out a little more.

I have written a more in-depth blog on fetal programming before, and I do not intend to re state all of those points at this time.  What I would like rather, is to make just a couple statements that should make for an easy take home message this week.



Point #1: “You are what your mother ate”

I attended the Alltech® ONE Ideas Conference this past week, and one statement that was made by Dr. Karl Dawson really stuck with me as a way to easily describe fetal programming, “You are what your mother ate”.  That pretty much sums it up.  If your mother was short on nutrients in gestation, it can have life-long impacts on your development.

Point #2.  It is not too late yet

For spring calving herds now is the time to make sure your soon to be (albeit early) gestating cows are not shorted for nutrients.  The bulls are either already out or being turned out every day.  It is late May 2017 and we are making plans for the calf crop you will be selling in 2018.  Most all of the gestation of your 2018 calf crop is ahead of you.  It is not too late to make sure those gestating cows do not ever run short of critical nutrients like, macro and trace minerals, vitamins, and protein, as we get to Fall grazing mature/dormant forages.

When is it too late?

Like running out of gas in your truck, it is too late when the truck stops.  You could have refueled the tank at any point between Full and Empty, and it would have helped you avoid running out of gas.  Sometimes we put it off too long and get caught.

With fetal programing, you should make sure the mother is not starved for nutrients from the beginning of gestation to the end (from Full to Empty) but, it will be too late once the calf if born.

That is the Dummies Guide to Fetal programming.  If you would like to continue reading, I have provided an overview of fetal programing for beef cattle below:

Fetal programming is the concept that a maternal stimulus or insult at a critical period in fetal development has long term future impacts on the offspring.  This long-term impact is not unlike genetic potential that is programmed before birth.  You cannot change a calf’s genetics after it is born, you can only provide that calf with the optimum growing conditions and hope that it has the genetic potential to be profitable.  Fetal programming is similar, in that you cannot fix periods of gestational malnutrition after the calf is born.  All you can do is provide that calf with the optimum growing conditions and hope that it (still) has the potential to be profitable.

A partial list of the areas fetal programming has been shown to impact would include:

  • Skeletal muscle development/calf growth & weight potential.
  • Marbling/carcass potential.
  • Reproductive efficiency of replacement heifers:
    • Increased body weight from weaning through 3 years of age
    • Greater pregnancy rates
    • Heifers more likely to calve in the initial 21 days of the calving season.

Studies have compared herds split into two groups for at least the first two trimesters (6 months) of their pregnancy.  One group received inadequate crude protein in their diet, and the second group received adequate crude protein.  Even though calves were treated the same after birth, lack of adequate crude protein early in gestation caused differences throughout the calf’s life. 

Program your herd for profitability with self-fed CRYSTALYX® Brand protein supplements.  They are an easy way to affordably provide protein, trace minerals, vitamins and phosphorus in a low-moisture supplement block that’s available 24/7, while minimizing your investment in time, labor and equipment.  As we progress through the Summer, many spring calving herds will be in the second trimester of pregnancy in September and October.  Fall pastures often do not provide adequate crude protein for gestating beef cows.  Make sure you give those calves the protein they need, during gestation, to set the stage for lifelong profitability.