Developing A Commercial Cattle Herd
The criteria for selection, or selling points, of good cows for your commercial
cattle herd depend on size, quality, age, condition, stage of pregnancy, and market price. You should select
breed and cow size to match your feed resources and topography. Local ranchers or Extension personnel can give you
an idea of what breeds are best suited to your area.
Crossbreeding (mating animals
from two or more breeds) can be an advantage in a commercial cow herd. Capitalizing on the merits of several
breeds, plus the extra vigor from crossbred calves, may give you a competitive edge in the market. Remember that
advances in genetic merit probably will not be realized for several years.
There are many sources of good cattle, both
registered and commercial. Usually it's best to purchase from a successful and reputable breeder. They usually sell
only sound cattle as breeding animals and they are helpful in giving advice to less experienced producers.
If you are inexperienced, it might be best to buy good, young, bred cows that have
calved at least once. This reduces problems associated with calving heifers. If you purchase open heifers, you
should breed them to a bull that has the genetics for easy calving.
Managing a cow-calf herd
It is ideal to have a controlled breeding season, rather than allowing the bull to run
with the cows continuously. A 45- to 60-day breeding season is recommended. The resulting shortened calving season
increases the possibility of having a uniform set of calves to sell at market time. Cattle of similar breeding and
size usually bring more money. Another advantage is that you can concentrate your work with cows during calving
into a short span, instead of having it strung out for months.
Cattle have a 283-day gestation period. Select breeding dates so that cows will calve
at the time of year you desire. Considerations in determining calving season include weather conditions and the
ability to match feed resources with the cows' requirements. In moast areas late fall or winter calving usually is
not desirable because rain causes wet, muddy lots and pastures. The adverse weather may increase the incidence of
calf scours and pneumonia. Late summer calving is a common practice because of the ideal weather. However, you must
feed a high quality ration to nursing cows and calves during winter, when only harvested feeds are available. This
greatly increases feed costs. Calving in the spring allows the cows to utilize rapidly growing range and pasture,
thus eliminating harvesting costs. However, spring calves may be too young to use all of the milk the cow provides
as a result of the excellent nutrition she is receiving. Your Extension agent can discuss the pros and cons of
calving seasons with you.
Commercial Cattle Herd Sire
A quality sire is essential to maintain a good, healthy herd. The rule of thumb is 1 bull
to 25 cows. The ratio varies depending on the bull's age and health, and the size of pasture.
Small herd owners have the following options for obtaining a good-quality bull:
- You can buy a bull in cooperation with another ranch.
- You can lease or borrow a sire from a neighbor.
However, using a bull increases the risk of diseases. Bulls
also may pose a safety risk, so treat them with respect.
Another good breeding option is artificial insemination (AI). If you use this method,
you should synchronize estrus in the herd for a shortened calving season. This process may require the aid of a
The last consideration of the breeding season is pregnancy testing the cows. The test
helps determine which cows should be culled from the herd to avoid the costs of wintering a cow that is not
pregnant. Veterinarians offer pregnancy testing services.
This aspect of beef cattle management requires experience and skill. If you are
inexperienced, it is recommended that you contact your veterinarian and/or Extension agent for advice on calving
management. Most Extension agents can provide you with a printed Cow Calf Management Guide.
Working the calves
One of the simplest ways to add to the value of your calves is to make sure they are well
fed, properly castrated, dehorned, vaccinated, and clearly identified. The most important thing to remember when
working calves is to stress them as little as possible. You can learn how to castrate, dehorn, and give
vaccinations under the supervision of an experienced cattle producer or veterinarian.
A good vaccination program also is vital to herd health and performance. Your Extension
agent and veterinarian are good sources of information on this subject.
Weaning is accomplished by separating calves from their
mothers. Calves should be weaned at approximately 7 to 8 months of age. This gives the cow time to regain body
condition after nursing.
Calves need an ample supply of fresh water and feed. Some producers prefer to creep
feed calves prior to weaning. This may help encourage the calves to begin feeding on their own after weaning.
Keeping performance records
Keeping records enables you to cull poor performers and maintain good overall herd health
and vigor. Examples of helpful calf records include birth weight, weaning weight, and average daily gain. Your
Extension agent is a good resource for help.
Combinations of breeding, growing, and feeding
Most calves produced in small commercial herds are marketed as weaned calves weighing from
450 to 600 pounds. Other options include the following:
• Wean the calves, winter them, and sell them as yearlings.
• Creep feed calves while the animals are still nursing, put them on full feed after
weaning, and then sell them as slaughter cattle at 12 to 16 months of age.
• Wean calves, winter them on a growing ration, then graze them during spring and
early summer and finish them to slaughter weight at 18 to 24 months of age.