Spring calving has either just begun or is quickly approaching for beef cattle producers across North America. This is equal parts excitement and stress for cattle producers, as years of breeding decisions, countless hours of work and large financial investments are recognized in a 45–90-day window. Market indicators point toward a stronger calf market in 2022, and if higher calf prices do stick, then capturing those gains starts with maximizing the number of live, healthy calves that hit the ground in the next few months. Adequately preparing your cowherd to handle the rigor that comes with calving is, in part, securing the future financial success of your operation.
Body condition and its influence on calving
Body condition score (BCS) is an extremely useful metric for gauging the genetics that work best for your nutrition and management programs. By tracking BCS, not only post-weaning but all the way through calving, you can identify the animals that struggled to perform while their energy requirements were the lowest (mid-gestation) and build your herd around the cattle that thrived in your environment. Ideally, mature cows should be a 5 BCS at calving, while first and second calf heifers perform better at 5.5–6 BCS. The amount of research that has been done on the correlation between BCS and economically relevant production traits is endless, but, in my opinion, the below chart summarizes some of the most important points nicely. Alltech’s Dr. Shelby Roberts also wrote an informative article that dives into the relevance of BCS at calving titled, “Observe body condition score at calving — and before.”
Nutritional needs change in the last trimester
The last trimester of pregnancy starts a large upshift in nutrient requirements for both the cow and the calf she is carrying. While the investment in a unit of protein and energy does not go as far in adding body condition for your cows as it did mid-gestation, it is crucial in supporting upwards of 70% of the fetal growth a calf experiences in-utero and sets the stage for the productivity of that calf for the rest of its life. CRYSTALYX® nutritionist Jill Peine, M.S., is an expert on all things fetal programming and has written numerous articles on the topic. Due to this rapidly growing calf and colder temperatures, a cow’s protein and energy needs can be elevated up to 40% during those last 90 days of pregnancy. Not to mention the added size of the calf and reproductive organs reduces rumen space and forage intake ability. Your cows worked hard to put on condition post-weaning, and letting her plane of nutrition fall right before the most economically important event of the year is like allowing a racecar to run out of gas on the last lap.
The second component of a sound pre-calving nutrition program is providing appropriate amounts and forms of trace minerals and vitamins. Essentially, all minerals, both macro and micro, and vitamins are known to impact fetal development, milk production, calf vigor, colostrum quality, time to estrus and breed back rates (practically every reproductive trait). This could turn into a 30-page essay explaining the different functions of each mineral and the roles they play in supporting the performance of your cattle, but for the sake of time, I will keep it simple. For 15–20 cents per head per day, I am convinced that a strong mineral program is the cheapest insurance a cow-calf producer can buy.
Management practices to maximize your investment in nutrition
Nutrition is arguably the most crucial component of having a successful calving season, but it is difficult to maximize your most expensive investment without proper management practices in place. A few to keep in mind leading up to spring calving include:
- Setting up your calving barn or pens in a way that makes cleaning convenient. This is especially for producers that calve in confinement, where calf scours are the leading cause of early calf death. An optimized set-up will increase the likelihood of keeping the herd clean and decrease losses. It is also vital not to co-mingle different sets of cows or overpopulate confined areas and separate sick cattle as quickly as possible.
- Making sure all calving equipment, such as chains, calf pullers, etc., is maintained and kept in working shape.
- Having good lighting in calving areas. This is worth its weight in gold.
- Keep in mind that bull semen takes around 60 days to develop fully. While it is easy to forget about the bullpen during calving, the management and nutrition of your bulls while calves are hitting the ground will impact their semen quality two months down the road.
How can CRYSTALYX help prepare for calving season?
Preparing for calving season is no small task. The convenience of a self-fed supplement like CRYSTALYX can take some of the stress away by providing consistent and cost-effective delivery of high-quality nutrition. As we discussed earlier, protein, energy, minerals and vitamins are all proven to be critical in setting your cows and the calves they are carrying up for a successful calving season. A product like CRYSTALYX® Blueprint® 30 checks all those boxes. The supplemental protein provides additional support in improving forage utilization and intake, while the Blueprint® trace mineral package consists of 100% organic Bioplex® trace minerals. For producers who want additional support, there is also a CRYSTALYX® Blueprint® 30 with Bio-Mos® 2. For less than $3 per head over a 60-day feeding period, the added gut health and performance benefits from feeding Bio-Mos 2 are further cost-effective advantages at ranchers’ disposal. We also have mineral supplements such as CRYSTALYX® Blueprint® 6% Phos with or without the Bio-Mos 2 option.
At the end of the day, the sense of pride associated with every live calf born is hard to replicate, and that feeling alone is what, I think, keeps a lot of people in the cattle business and makes spring calving such an exciting time of year.