Feeding and animal health programmes for cattle should be developed around a breeding plan.
The mating season should ideally occur within a three-month period, as this improves uniformity in all the later stages of development.
At the start of the breeding season, cows should have a condition score of around 3,5, while bulls should have a score of between 3,5 and 4.
According to Prof Frikkie Neser of the Department of Animal, Wildlife and Grassland Sciences at the University of the Free State, the fundamentals for cattle and sheep farming are the same: you need a predetermined and fixed time frame for breeding. Using this as a reference point, you can then develop a strategic feeding and health programme to complement it. However, you need to have control over where your bulls or rams are at any given time.
“Before you can play around with different breeding techniques, you first have to put a proper breeding season strategy in place,” he says.
In order to develop a breeding season strategy, you must first decide when mating will take place. As a general rule, the best time for this is a month before the rain starts. Also, heifers should be mated a month before cows, as they tend to take longer to recover.
Neser says it is good practice to mate your second-year heifers separately from the older cows, as the cows have a tendency to keep the bulls for themselves.
You should try to keep the mating season within a three-month period, says Neser, as this enhances uniformity in all the later development stages. In summer rainfall areas, this means you should aim for a mating season that commences around 15 November for heifers, and 15 December for cows.
If all goes well during the mating season, about 60% of calves are born within the first 30 days of the calving season. This is good, as it allows more time for the cows to recover, and calves will thus be heavier at weaning. The 60% rule is also a good check to see if there are any underlying issues that need attention.
It is important to pay close attention to the nutritional requirements of your animals throughout the year, but this is particularly crucial during mating and calving.
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