6 Ways to Improve Cow Conception Rates

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Last updated on October 5th, 2023 at 11:49 am

Do you find it a struggle to hit the conception rates you'd like in breeding season? Sometimes we expect too much out of our bulls and cows, and become frustrated when breeding doesn't go quite as planned. If you've ever wondered if there is anything you can do to boost your chance of success during breeding and reduce your number of open cows, we know how your feel. That's why we've compiled 6 ways to positively impact your conception rates, ways that have been tried and tested on countless ranches across the country.

While some of them may obvious, it's critical to take every measure possible if you want the highest chance of improved conception rates.

Pay careful attention to these 6 areas to increase your conception rates and make a positive impact on your bottom line: 

  • Pre-calving and calving nutrition
  • Pre-breeding and breeding nutrition
  • Tightening up your calving intervals
  • Looking at calving difficulty
  • Paying attention to season and environmental effects
  • Bull testing and bull-to-cow ratio 

These are all extremely important topics to be pinpointing before breeding to set yourself and your ranch up for the highest possible chance of success this breeding season

Pre-calving & calving nutrition

All too often, we expect cattle to be at a certain body condition throughout calving season, without providing them the nutrition they need to get there. This is why it’s critical for cattle to be on an inclining plane of nutrition before calving, during calving, and after calving for optimum performance. Without that nutrition, the cow’s reproductive system can essentially shut down and is unable to prepare for breeding.

We recommend keeping the cow’s body condition score at a moderate level through calving, and then once calving is finished, increase the quality of their feed. That way, the cow’s body condition score increases just in time to kickstart her reproductive system, give her stronger heats, and ultimately, a higher chance of breeding within the first 21 days. 

As you may well know, not all mineral supplements are created equal. To have the biggest impact, your supplement program needs to include highly available key trace minerals, to ensure they get through the rumen into the bloodstream where they can do their job. Additionally, a multi-component digestion pack is a key part of your livestock supplement. A quality digestion pack should multiply and hyper-activate the good microbes in the rumen. 

These 2 critical components work together to get rid of inflammations and help the cow prepare for successful breeding. The sooner a quality nutrition program is available to the cow, the sooner she can effectively recover from calving and breed up faster, which will eventually help tighten up your calving window.

Pre-breeding and breeding nutrition 

Pre-breeding is not the time to let up on a high-quality supplement. Offering mineral from calving through to breeding will ensure the cow’s nutritional needs are met so she can accept the semen when the bull comes around. 

It’s important to remember that if she has any inflammations or internal issues, Mother Nature tells her to put her reproductive system on the ‘back burner’ until the problem is resolved. By staying ahead of the game and ensuring your herd is on an increasing plane of nutrition before breeding, you will greatly increase your chance of success and an increased conception rate.

Tightening your calving interval

If you have a long calving season in practice on your ranch, you may notice that it’s difficult to increase your conception rate. 

A long, drawn-out calving season may mean that there are cows that haven’t even calved yet when breeding season begins. If a cow doesn’t have the chance to go into heat before breeding starts, it can be detrimental to her getting bred and bred timely. If some cows miss the chance completely to breed up, it’ll have a hard impact on your bottom line.

Calving difficulties

It’s not unusual for some cows to have a difficult time during calving. But if you don’t learn to prevent those issues from happening, you increase the risk of losing the calf as well as the performance of the cow going forward.

Calving difficulties obviously prolong the cow’s time to recover, which means she has a reduced chance of getting bred in the first cycle. No doubt, genetics are important and play a big role in calving difficulties, but so does nutrition. Nutrition during this time is critical to help make calving easier, allow the cow to recover sooner, and get into heat cycles faster.

Season and environmental effects 

According to the Iowa Beef Center, environmental factors don’t directly affect fertilization rates, but rather, embryonic mortality. This means that if you experience any sort of extreme weather, either hot or cold, it can have a negative impact on both the cows and the bulls and their breeding performance.

Breeding season

Bull testing, bull nutrition, and bull-to-cow ratio

The truth is, many ranchers put too much trust in their bulls. If the bulls performed well last year, they should do the same this year, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Many things can happen throughout the course of a year, which is why testing your bulls before breeding season is so important. That way, you’ll have a heads up if there is an issue and you can address it in a timely fashion.

Another thing to keep in mind is bull nutrition. A quality nutrition program is just as important for bulls as it is for cows. If they are not on an inclining plane of nutrition pre-breeding, it will be far more challenging for them to fight off any inflammations or internal issues. 

When is the best time to offer a supplement program to your bulls?

At the very least, 90 days before breeding begins. All too often, ranchers believe they only need to provide bull supplement 2 - 3 weeks pre-breeding. The problem with that is, bull semen quality is determined 60 days before he uses the semen. That’s why he needs to be on an inclining plane of nutrition even before that, so he can meet his mineral requirements and prepare to do his job and do it well.

Bull-to-cow ratio 

Every genetic has its differences, and that’s why it is important to make sure that you’re not asking your bulls to do more than they're capable of. Be mindful of your bull-to-cow ratio and stay within the proper parameters to successfully increase your herd’s conception rate.

Become confident about improving your cowherd’s conception rate.

Getting a better understanding of key breeding performance impactors is the first step to increasing your conception rate - even if it’s just by a couple of percentage points. We encourage you to analyze your own operation; what small step can you take today that will bump up your conception rate or tighten your breeding window and make that positive impact on your bottom line?

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