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Poor Reproductive Performance in Beef Cattle

How does poor reproductive performance impact a beef cattle herd?

Poor reproductive performance can result in massive financial losses for producers, but it is challenging to properly identify associated causes until several months post breeding season. The ripple effect of poor reproductive management can result in early culling of cows, unhealthy or high-risk calves and an overall decline in operational profitability.

Causes of poor cow reproductive performance

  • Inadequate nutrition: Nutrition plays a critical role in successful cow reproduction.  Maintaining a proper body condition score (BCS) improves the likelihood of a healthy birth and a timely breed back.
  • Stress: Heat stress can impact fertility rates and cause early abortions. It is also always important to practice low-stress (slow and quiet) handling techniques.
  • Disease: Venereal diseases like vibriosis and trichomoniasis, and other infectious diseases such as Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) can all negatively impact cow performance.

Causes of poor bull reproductive performance

  • Poor semen quality: Bulls that are underconditioned or sick will experience dips in semen quality and viability.
  • Foot rot and other health concerns: Foot rot is a common challenge among bulls. Bulls experiencing foot rot will be less likely to select cows in heat. Hind leg injuries can also prevent bulls from mounting cows.
  • Insufficient bull to cow ratio: Having too few bulls available can also negatively impact performance.


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How nutrition affects reproductive success in beef cattle

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3 ways to prevent poor reproductive performance in cows

  1. Close the energy gap. Although fetal nutrient requirements are minimal during early and mid-gestation (making up less than 12% of the cow’s total requirements), from a production standpoint, gestation begins exactly when the cow’s nutrient requirements are greatest, due to the increased demands of lactation. Manage cows appropriately and adjust supplementations accordingly to minimize BCS losses during this period.
  2. Maximize immunity and health. Post-calving is typically a stressful time, as there are several physiological and nutritional changes taking place during this period. It is very important to ensure that cows have an optimal immune status post-calving in order to maximize fertility. Some cows will have a higher risk of uterine infections due to retained placenta and metritis after calving. Uterine infections and ovarian problems in cattle will inevitably influence fertility. Trace minerals, such as selenium, play a key role in maintaining a healthy immune system in the calving period. Other trace minerals, such as copper, and major minerals, like phosphorus, play key roles in ovulation and cycling. If there is a deficiency in either, the possibility of anestrus becomes more likely. Research has proven that feeding these trace minerals in their organic form leads to these minerals being better absorbed, stored and utilized.
  3. Focus on critical nutrients. Genetic selection happens when the producer is making mating decisions, but you can program the calf during gestation to help increase the profitability of your genetics by providing ideal growing conditions. For these vital organs to develop properly — and to maximize your calves’ genetic potential — make sure gestating cows don’t run short of critical nutrients, like macro and trace minerals, vitamins and protein.