cattle on pasture
Updated: October 18, 2021
By Racheal Slattery

Getting Your Herd Ready for the Breeding Season

In Maryland, May and June are the ideal breeding season for spring calving herds – pastures are looking good and the high heat and humidity of the summers here hasn’t hit yet, making for lower stress cattle handling. With each breeding season, it’s important to look back on past years – stick with methods that have worked and also learn from mistakes that were made.

Steps to help have a successful breeding season

  1. Make sure your cows are in good condition (first-calf heifers should be closer to a 6, older cows can get by on a 5). Having a calf by her side is going to work to pull weight off causing a delay in re-breeding. Supplement feed, if necessary, whether that’s grain or good hay. If you’re not familiar with body condition scoring, the University of Nebraska has a very helpful guide that can walk you through how to condition score your cattle:

  2. Implement a pre-breeding vaccination program – make sure you are including vaccinations against Leptospirosis, vibriosis, BVD, IRB and trichomoniasis.

  3. Are you planning on synchronizing your cattle? What protocol are you going to use? The Beef Reproduction Task Force has several helpful aids when it comes to choosing the program that will work best on your farm.​​​​
    Updated Synchronization Protocols for Cows and Heifers, 2021(pdf) 

    Estrus Synchronization Planner helps establish a program and develop an easy-to-use calendar to eliminate timing errors.

  4. Bull Power – Are you using Artificial Insemination (AI), Timed Artificial Insemination (TAI), AI or TAI with a clean-up bull or, estrus synchronization with natural service (bulls), or natural heat detection and natural service? There is not right or wrong method, each has its positives and negatives, make sure you are choosing one that works for you and the goals of your farm.

    The AI Cowculator can help you decide if using AI makes economic sense for your cattle operation:

Things to keep in mind when using AI or TAI

  • Proper storage and handling of semen is essential. Make sure to get your semen tank routine inspected for wear and tear, including potential leaks.

  • Good record-keeping and animal observation will help prevent timing errors.

Things to keep in mind when using clean-up bulls and natural service

  • Make sure all the bulls you plan on using have had a recent Breeding Soundness Exam (BSE). Too often the way folks learn they had issues with a bull is when cows come up open at the end-of-season pregnancy checks or worse during that following spring’s calving season.

    • Where can I get a BSE for my bulls? Contact your veterinarian.

  • Know how much “Bull Power” you will need to breed your herd.

    • A good ratio to follow is 20-25 cows per bull, you will want to halve that number for younger bulls (less than 2 years old)

    • When using an estrus synch protocol combined natural service, stay with 2-4 year old higher energy, active bulls (under 2 years can get rundown and overwhelmed pretty quick) and keep the ratio closer to 10 to 1 as many cows will be coming into heat that the same time.

  • If you are using more than one bull at a time, make sure they’ve had a chance to get to know each other and determine a pecking order before dropping them with your herd. Otherwise, they’ll waste energy fighting and potential injury each other instead of breeding your cows.

Ultimately, you play a major role in the health and productively of your cattle. Herds that receive proper nutrition and health management cycle sooner, breed back faster, calve earlier, and are more productive year after year. With the tight margins inherent in this industry, breeding efficiency is essential to the profitability of your farm.

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This article appears in the May 2021, Edition 1, Cattles Tales Livestock newsletter.

Cattle Tales Livestock Newsletter, May 2021, Edition 1

Cattle Tales Livestock is a quarterly newsletter published by the University of Maryland Extension that focuses on bringing timely, relevant information to Maryland's livestock producers.  To subscribe to this newsletter, click the button below to enter your contact information.