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Saskatchewan’s 21-Day Calving Challenge

… a calving record book with a twist

There are three $1,000 vouchers for mineral supplement up for grabs in the Saskatchewan 21-Day Calving Challenge, but everyone is a winner year after year just by paying attention to the reproductive success of their cow herds.

The simplest and most effective way to do that is to track calving distribution by counting the number of cows that calve in the first 21-day period of your calving season, divide by the total number to calve and multiply by 100 to get a percentage. Do the same for the second and third 21-day intervals.

The challenge is to meet or beat the goal of having 60 per cent of your cows calve in the first 21 days.

Producers are encouraged to include their 21-day calving percentage on the entry form, but if your herd doesn’t meet the 60 per cent mark this year, or you’re not done calving by the contest closing date of June 1, don’t let that stop you from entering the contest, says Travis Peardon, Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture (SMA) regional livestock specialist.

The special 21-Day Calving Challenge calving record book, where you’ll find the entry form, is jam-packed with practical information on reproduction and nutrition to help improve your calving distribution in the years ahead.

The idea behind the contest, organized by the SMA regional services branch, New Life Mills, Saltec-Ceres Industries and Cargill, is to raise awareness of the importance of tracking calving distribution as a measure of cow herd reproductive success and the importance of reproduction to your bottom line.

Cow herd reproduction is without question the No. 1 factor in profitability for cow-calf operations. It’s five times more important to the bottom line than growth rate and 10 times more important than carcass traits, Peardon explains.

Calves from cows that calve early have a head start on those born later in the calving season and will be heavier at weaning, which is particularly important if you typically sell all the calves off the cows at weaning. Every time a cow misses a 21-day breeding cycle it will cost around 50 pounds in calf weaning weight. In today’s market, those pounds are more valuable than ever.

Likewise, replacement heifer calves born in the first 21 days are heavier and more likely to be cycling as yearling heifers than those born later on.

Not only does uniformity add value in the marketplace, but management procedures and labour requirements are simplified when calves are of similar age and cows are at similar stages in their reproductive cycle.

Cows that calve in the first 21 days have more time to return to estrus and be ready to rebreed at the start of the next breeding season, provided they are in good body condition at calving and fed to maintain condition while milking. Early-calving cows stay on track by calving early and weaning the heaviest calves each year. Therefore, they are more likely to stay in the breeding herd longer than cows that calve later on.

Tips to stay on track

Peardon says the biggest considerations to keep your herd on track are body condition scoring at calving through to rebreeding and having a good year-round mineral program.

Target the feeding program to achieve body condition scores of 2.5 for mature cows and 3.0 for first-calf heifers (on the five-point scale) at calving. Maintain or improve on it as the case may be to promote the return to estrus by the start of the new breeding season.

If your calving distribution is tilted to the late side or falls off track, the first things to look at are your feeding and mineral program and your health program. It never hurts to have a second set of eyes look over what’s happened and offer suggestions and regional livestock specialists are quite prepared to do that, Peardon says.

Your situation may require consulting a veterinarian to set up an effective vaccination program or a nutritionist to work out the kinks in your feeding program.

One factor often overlooked that can sneak up on you is bulls that for some reason fail to get the job done. It’s important to include your bulls in your health program and put them through a breeding soundness exam before turning them out. Testing is still no guarantee; things still happen out on breeding pastures that can’t always be anticipated, and are even more disastrous in single-bull pastures. Fever from a foot rot infection, for example, can affect sperm viability.

For more details, if you live in Saskatchewan, call 1-866-457-2377.

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