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Recordkeeping from breeding to weaning

Terrell Miller for Progressive Cattle Published on 24 February 2021

Recordkeeping for cow-calf producers is an essential part of running a successful operation, regardless of size or business goals. While almost all producers keep an animal inventory to track purchases and sales, many also choose to maintain production records to facilitate better decision-making.

Production records consist of data starting with breeding records and continuing with pregnancy checking, calving and weaning. After you organize all of this information, you can use it to give you an overall view of your herd’s performance.

Keeping records at all times

Choosing the right breeding data to collect

Breeding records for many commercial operations can be as simple as exposure dates when a bull or bulls were in a pasture. For operations using artificial insemination (A.I.) or embryo transfer (ET), breeding data also includes specific dates, sires and breeding methods.

Operations utilizing A.I. or ET will also need to maintain and verify semen and embryo inventories throughout the breeding season.

The bare minimum goal with your breeding records should be the ability to determine the number of females exposed. The number of females exposed is a critical value that serves as the denominator in your pregnancy percentage and calving percentage calculations.

Making proactive decisions with pregnancy check data

Many producers choose to pregnancy check their cattle to determine conception rates and optionally make culling decisions. As far as pregnancy check records go, some producers will simply note the check date, “open” or “pregnant” and possibly the number of months pregnant. Producers using ultrasound for pregnancy checking may also be able to record the days pregnant and even the sex of the unborn calf.

Pregnancy checking is also an excellent opportunity to make timely herd management decisions. Registered operations may decide to move open females to the next breeding season. Some producers will also choose to cull the open females to avoid carrying a non-producing female until the next breeding season.

The bare minimum goal with your pregnancy check records should be to determine the number of pregnant females. This value serves as the numerator and, when divided into the number of females exposed from your breeding records, will give you the herd’s pregnancy percentage.

Calving data for herd and individual analysis

Calving season is not an event like pregnancy checking or weaning – it’s an ongoing process that lasts for several months. Though it’s the most time-consuming part of cattle recordkeeping, calving records also provide the greatest opportunity to collect valuable data to rank and evaluate breeding females on an individual animal basis.

Basic calving data includes the calf’s birth date, sex and dam. A birthweight, measured from a measuring tape or hanging scale, can be used to obtain a more accurate adjusted weaning weight.

Registered producers are also reporting data for their breed associations and therefore need to record various values, including calving ease, teat and udder score, feed/management scores and contemporary groups.

The bare minimum goal for herd-level analysis with your calving records should be to determine the number of live calves born. This value serves as the numerator and, when divided into the number of exposed females from your breeding records, will give you the herd’s calving percentage. Comparing calving percentages over time, as well as with similar operations, helps you determine how your cattle are performing.

Individual-level analysis requires that the calf be tied back to its dam. Linking the calf back to the dam, along with the calf’s birth date, allows you to calculate the average calving interval for the dam.

Weaning records for effective decision-making

Weaning, the final stage of the production cycle, allows you to reap the rewards from all records maintained since breeding.

Weaning weight is an essential piece of data for evaluating your herd on an individual animal level. Ideally, you will collect the weaning weight with an on-farm set of scales for maximum accuracy and timeliness, but sale barn weights could be used if necessary. As with calving, registered producers may need to collect additional management codes and measurements, including heights and frame scores.

A critical yet often misunderstood weaning concept is the contemporary group. Contemporary groups allow you to group similar animals, such as by gender or by management groups. This process ensures you are ranking and evaluating your calves on an apples-to-apples level.

Producers using cattle management software can enter their weaning weights and let the software calculate various measurements, including adjusted 205-day weaning weight, average daily gain (ADG) and weight per day of age (WDA). If you assigned contemporary groups to your calves, your software would calculate a weaning weight ratio that can be used to compare an animal’s weaning weight to the group average.

Reaping the rewards of recordkeeping

Producers can easily justify the effort in collecting production records based on the ability to make timely and informed decisions. Depending on the detail of your records, you will be able to analyze your operation on the herd level for comparison over time and potentially on the individual animal level for ranking your herd.  end mark

PHOTO: Keeping records at all stages is important in tracking your herd’s performance. Photo by Carrie Veselka.

Terrell Miller
  • Terrell Miller

  • Founder
  • Cattlesoft Inc.
  • Email Terrell Miller

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