Time to rule out nutritional culprits and plan for above-average breeding results next round.

You think you’re doing everything possible to prepare for a great pregnancy check, but are you seeing the payoff? Are you hitting a 90 to 95 percent pregnancy rate? If your results are average or below, it’s time to pinpoint the reason.

“Lots of things could contribute to disappointing preg check results,” says Doug Hawkins, Ph.D., technical support specialist for Purina Animal Nutrition. “Is it nutrition? Health? The bull? Identifying the culprit starts with the process of elimination.”

Many factors contribute to breeding success, but your herd’s nutrition is the easiest to manage.

Nutrition’s role in breeding

“Start thinking about preg checking a year in advance,” suggests Hawkins. “Once you preg check, there’s not much you can do to impact results. It has to be a year-round focus.”

The recruitment of oocytes on the surface of the ovary occurs 3 to 4 months before a cow ovulates, so nutrition’s impact on fertility and conception is critical before you ever turn out a bull.

Breeding success or failure can also be compounded by a cow’s energy requirements.

“Most of the time, cows are lactating, have a calf at side and are trying to meet their own nutritional requirements,” says Hawkins. “The bottom line is cow nutrition requirements are high at the time of breeding, and cows need adequate nutrition to get pregnant.”

Ruling out nutritional culprits

“If nutrition is not up to par, you’ll likely see less-than-desirable results on preg check day,” says Hawkins. “Then, it’s time to start evaluating.”

Some common questions to ask:

  • Did cows have sufficient forage before and during the breeding period?
  • Were cows consuming mineral and protein supplements at target intake levels?
  • Did the supplement(s) have enough energy to meet cow requirements?
  • If you answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, you may have found your culprit. However, if you answered ‘yes’, you’ll need to dive deeper into nutrition and other management areas.

Playing the long game

Ensuring cows have what they need year-round is the key to breeding success.

“First, look at your forage situation,” says Hawkins. “Whether your forage is a round bale of hay or you have cows grazing, make sure you have forage to meet a cow’s roughage needs.”
Next, consider a cow’s energy and protein needs.

“Meet energy and protein requirements by using a self-fed supplementation program,” adds Hawkins. “These programs allow cows to consume the energy and protein they need when they need it.”

If cows need more energy or protein, they’ll consume more supplement. If they are getting adequate energy and protein from forages, they’ll eat less supplement.

“Last but not least, you need to provide a quality mineral,” says Hawkins. “Make sure cows are receiving the vitamins and minerals they need for breeding success.”

A pen-to-paper plan

If you want to try to achieve better than average breeding results next year, now is the time to strategize.

“Have a written plan in place to achieve a 90 to 95 percent pregnancy rate,” recommends Hawkins. “For the nutrition part of the breeding equation, cover energy, protein and mineral requirements. And, don’t forget to plan other parts of the equation, like animal health.”

Doug Hawkins, Ph.D., technical support specialist for Purina Animal Nutrition.