Getting Cows Bred Back

March 2005
Lochrane A. Gary - Hardee County Extension, Director/Livestock Agent

More than any other factor, nutrition has the greatest influence on the time required for a cow to breed back after calving. When the cow does become pregnant feeding her for maintenance will be sufficient for the needs of the developing fetus.

It is only during the last trimester (90 days before calving) that the cow needs a little extra nutrition. This is the period during which two-thirds of the growth of the calf will occur. During this time make certain that she is receiving adequate levels of protein and vitamin A.

The most stressful period of a cow's life nutritionally speaking is during lactation. This is especially true of first-calf heifers. Lactation requires better nutrition than pregnancy. Her need for total calories, vitamin A, calcium and protein is highest when she is nursing and if she doesn't receive what she needs she will not breed back on time.

Keep in mind that a cow is pregnant about 283 days and when we subtract that number from 365 days in a year it only leaves us 83 days. Therefore, a cow only has 83 days after calving to breed back in order for her to calve on a yearly basis which should be our goal. Cows which have Body Condition Scores (BCS) below 5 on a nine point scale at the start of the breeding season will most likely lose at least two BCS's during lactation and will not breed back on time.

Vitamin and minerals are essential for good reproduction. It has been this authors' experience to find many ranchers' mineral boxes empty when cruising through a pasture. If cows are calving in the fall or winter when grass quality is poor a high quality source of vitamin A may assist in getting the cow to cycle back. This may be supplied by feeding high quality green hay or by supplementation or by injection.

Be certain that protein levels are adequate during the calving season, especially if calving during the winter when grass quality may be at its lowest. Many soils in Florida are deficient in selenium so check with your local veterinarian and get his/her recommendation on a mineral mix that will work in your location. Feed the highest level of selenium permitted by law. This author has had personal experience in checking selenium levels of cattle purchased out of the state of Florida. In almost every case (over 250) the cattle showed a blood selenium level below normal after spending a year in south Florida. This was despite feeding high selenium mineral, injecting selenium and administering selenium boluses into the rumen. This experience occurred several years ago and before organic selenium became available.

Remember to provide special attention to first-calf heifers. They are shedding their teeth, growing and lactating all at the same time. They require extra nutrition on the best pasture and separate from the cow herd so they don't have to compete with larger cattle. Make certain this gets done. Too often heifers are ignored until they begin to lose condition and then the rancher tries to play "catch up" and it may be too late and the heifers become stunted for life. This is the most difficult group to get to breed back. Getting heifers pregnant the first time is usually easier than the second time! Get your heifers in a BCS of 5 or 6 at breeding and maintain a BCS of 4.5-5.0 during lactation. This will help to insure a quick breed back.

A word of caution. In your zeal to provide good nutrition to first calf heifers, avoid feeding too much protein. This may produce too large a calf at birth resulting in dystocia. Like most things in life, try to keep nutrition in balance and avoid extremes and sudden changes.

Return to top