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Thoughts from a ranch visit

published: April 5th 2019
by: Joe C. Paschal
source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
The other day a county extension agent called me up and said one of their cattle producers requested that I come up for a ranch visit. It seems that over the years the pregnancy rate of their herds was beginning to decline and they figured it was time to do something about it. I don’t get to do these as often as I would like and I jumped at the chance. I took the “gate seat” of the owner’s truck and we visited as he drove. 
I have known the rancher for almost 33 years and he was very progressive in the past. He had a nice set of cows and replacement heifers, mostly in good body condition and some pretty good bulls. His nutrition program, including the mineral supplement, was first rate. Most of the pastures were in good condition as well, reflecting good grazing management. When we stopped to talk, so everyone could catch up on our conversation, I began to think how many times I had done this over the years. These types of visits can have a significant impact both ways, on the rancher, as well as on me. I always learn a lot and sometimes I can offer some ideas that have a positive economic outcome for them. 
As we gathered around the back of the truck that day, we covered several possible causes of the de-cline in calving (and weaning) percentages. I find that most of the time, unless there is a catastrophic re-duction in pregnancy rate or weaning percentage, it is basic management practices that need to be revisited. 
We discussed annual breeding soundness examinations on the bulls, shortening the breeding (or calving) season, earlier pregnancy testing cows and heifers, vaccinating the cowherd and heifers for some reproductive diseases, and working (castrating and implanting) and vaccinating the calves. I realize that some of these practices will not improve the reproductive rate, which was the purpose of the visit, but would improve the weight of the calves marketed--a side benefit.  I know these were pretty simple suggestions, but over the years these practices may tend to decline somewhat, particularly if we don’t see a significant drop in calf crop or a bunch of aborted or dead calves. Of course, it costs money to do these practices, but I have never observed a negative return as a result of doing any of them.  Over the years, I have observed that folks often do less and less of them, including me.
Now is a good time to consider what you have been doing. Do you fertility test bulls annually, pregnancy check cows before they calve, and vaccinate cows for reproductive diseases? There are so many things to consider doing this time of year when we are finishing up wintering our cows, looking for new bulls and calving out cows. But there is no better time to get started than right now!

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