When it comes to breeding the cows, there are a couple of options. You can choose to AI or artificially inseminate, use a bull, or perform embryo transplants. This past year, my brother used each of those options. For our past show heifers, we like to AI or perform an embryo transplant. For our Red Angus cows, we usually use our Maine bull.
Once the cow is bred, its gestation period is about 9 months. When approaching the 9-month mark, my brother will prepare the barn and calving facilities for the calves to arrive. This might include fencing, bedding, waters, ear tags, and supplements. He also will begin to check the cows throughout the day and night for new calves.
Once a cow has a calf, the calf is tagged matching its mother’s number. The cow and calf are also put into a separate pen to ensure that the calf begins to suck. In cattle, the cow commonly just has a single, but twins can also occur. It is important that the calf begins to eat from its mother within the first few hours. For the next week or so the calf becomes stronger and is then ready to stay outdoors. It is important to watch the weather during this time, in case there is a cold front, snow, wind or rain. After 6-8 months, the calves can be weaned from their mothers. However, every producer weans at different times. After the weaning process, it is beneficial to take a look back at records from the calving season. It is important to look at how each cow performed to determine if they need to be sold. For example, based on the cow’s milk production, birthing records, attitude and age.
My favorite part of calving is waiting to see what each cow will produce. Most importantly, I like to see a healthy, live calf! However, I enjoy seeing improvements through the calf from the benefits of certain breeding techniques. I once had a very good show steer that was black and white, so I love having calves that are black and white. This year I have enjoyed seeing what the embryos have produced. My brother had 5 eggs implanted; so far we have had 4 healthy, good quality calves out of the eggs. Typically, embryo transplants have a success percentage of 40-70%. So right now, my brother has an 80% success rate this year.
These projects can start in any size. With my brother and I we kept back two show heifers the first year. We were then able to take a cow/calf pair to the fair, which was also a new experience. My brother and I had a lot of success with the cow/calf pair. I also showed the calf as a market heifer the following summer. By doing all of these things, my brother and I learned a lot about breeding, feeding and starting out a cowherd. This is just another prime example of what projects in 4-H and FFA can lead to.
Check out this website for more information on embryo transfer:
Check out this website for more information on AI: