To get out or stay in??

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Steve Banks

Well-known member
Aug 27, 2005
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Southern Indiana
I've own cattle for about 20 years, I consider myself well informed and very intense on my mangement style. I know that this is a subjective statement, so lets agree that, I know the basics and follow them to the letter.
Since 2002 my cattle numbers have averaged around 14 head ( brood cows ). I'm very disappointed that I have lost 16 calves in that lenght of time!! (Lost meaning didn't breed, aborted, still born, dead after a few days, mostily the latter 3 ). Is this acceptable?
These animals or vac., wormed, excellent minerals and feed (all the time), controlled breeding ( 60 days), usually a body score of 6-6.5, may drop to a 5.5 after calving, but quickily returns to a 6-6.5 due to the amount and quality of feed they get. These cattle are between first calf heifers and 9 years of age, the mean average is like 4 years!
Again I know there is a lot of unknowns/questions that you would like to have, but if you could/would try to give me some insight on this, it would be appreciated.
I thinking about getting out of the cow/calf and going to stockers.
That is a 2.28% loss over 5 years (14x5= 70, 16/70= 22.8%) (16calves lost/5 years=3.2 calves a year lost)
Not bad at 2.28 on average. But when you look at losing 3.2 calves a year out of that is alot.
I think you need to figure out:
how many abortions per year
how many open per year
how many due to birthing problems (ie backwards, foot back etc)
how many due to sickness related calf deaths (ie, unthrifty at birth)
how many due to scours?
How many due to weaning?

Then look at your birth weights...are you calving to big or too small a calf
your vaccinations, are the ML or killed, when do you adminsiter?
do you realize the "shelf time" of mixed ML in relation to heat, sun, and time mixed?
are you administering right?
BCS, are they, the cows may be to fat? putting the #'s on them instead of the calf and the quality of milk
Colostrum quality and timing?

Abortions due to what? Moldy feed, fighting, open cow in the heavily in calf area, causeing unnecessary stress?
open due to what? do you preg test? Is it genetic? Do you semen test your bulls yearly? Do you vaccinate your bulls?
What have the weather conditions been like these last few years? Anything like ours and the weather has been all over the place and not consistent with the seasons

Management issues in regards to space in the winter feeding, calving, and breeding
Management issues in regards to watching birthing cows, do you let them have at it and check once a day or are you a every 2 hour hands on kind of guy?
When do you wean? Do you wean just before they calve or at when the calf at side is 6-7 mo?

Stockers are no barrel of laughs either. All you need is one animal who is sick to bring them all down and spend alot in meds. (worked for a guy who went into stockers.)

edit for the big math error
i re read your post, abortions, stills, and dead after a few days, you need a vet to post and find the problem. You should also look at getting your herd checked for BVD and IBR, before making any decisions as to getting out or not.
BVD can affect, re breeding, stills, abortions, and dead shortly after issues. You might have a PI in there somewhere. With 14 cows and calves, get everyone including the bull checked
Not knowing the complete story about your program, here are a few ideas:
  • 1. I think your BCS's are too high. Too fat cows = breed back, calving, and too heavy calf problems.
    2. I'd think seriously about culling any females that had more than one problem.
    3. Take a look at the bull. He may be the problem.
yet another post sorry
I remember something i did several years back
We moved to the farm 15 years ago. In the first 5 we were averaging 5-7 dead in a herd of 50 or so animals. Deaths included things like yours
About that time, hubby and i were trying to get into vaccinations and other herd management issues changed.
One of things i did with hubby's approval (his family farm) was a chart. Yours would be easier to do with less animals
On the top or side, the cow listed since 2002
on the other side the reason died. Abortion, open, still, death after few days, scour death etc, add in a column for poor weaners in weight and condition
at the bottom of the page write each year and put a color mark beside so you know each year.
then start at 2002 , mark in the chart each death
the 2003 with a different color mark each loss of calf
then the next and the next.

Look for a pattern of losses,
If no pattern, then go back a few years and do the same thing.

We found this to be a real eye opener and with the implemetation of vaccinations (took a few years) some culling, and some different bulls (we had some genetic issues) we were able to drop the death rate to 1-2 including opens on a herd of 80.
rockridgecattle - you need to move your decimal point. sorry. :(

Steve Banks, if it's any help to you I'd consider as acceptable losses in a farm dairy:
5% not bred. 1 - 2% abort. 1- 2% stillborn. Most vets recommend losses of calves born alive should be under 5% - the only year mine have been that high was the first time I saw rotavirus. I'd be inclined to think something was wrong if born calves died at the rate of 5%.
I have though, put down calves born brain damaged or physically deformed - at the rate of one or two a year from my 150 cows (1%).

rrc's suggestions look about right. I'd be looking at either a) management over calving - not checking enough, calves not getting colostrum, high dystocia rates or b) weak calves which could be BVD, dystocia, genetics, anything else that causes abortion? might weaken calves born alive.
It looks like to me your loss is 19% . From 2002 until now is at least 6 years, not 5 . 6X14=84 16/84 = 19% .

not sure where i learned to count my years...oh boy 2002-2008. Including 2002 and 2008 7 years
16/98= 16%
must need my head examined. Usually so good with numbers :oops:

on a positive note, it's gone from 22% to 16%


but i still think you need a vet to post a death, you need BVD tests, and you need to see if there is a pattern in the brood cows. Is one cow losing more often or not rebreeding when she should? the reasons are there, you need to find them
On abortions I would check my herd for neospora as well.
You need to get your BCS down to 5 to 6 everthing is pretty fat except a huntin dog and a woman doesn't mean it is good.
You need to make sure you are using a low calfing weight and calving ease bull.
I would go back and look at the girls that are not producing and try to determine why BCS, bad genetics, diesease.
Cull ruthlessly a cow loose a calf here she is on a short list and has a ticket to ride no matter the reason.
My job is to provide the best forage avaialable, hers is to have grow and defend the calf or she is fired.
The first thing is to figure out if you have a mangement,medical or your barn blind retaining cull cattle or a mixture of all three. It is cheaper to maintain a good cow, through the years I have figured it takes three calf's to maintain 5 cows.
80-85% of cows exposed bringing in a weaned calf probably isn't that far from the national average.

Now if you're settling 98% of the cows and not loosing anything after 30 days of age, but still having all that death loss in the 30 days either side of calving then you probably need to figure out what the problem is.
Bottom line: After all expenses(include cow depreciation/rent for pasture etc.) did you make any money? I think your animal losses and the amount of feed you obviously are putting in them would suggest you probably aren't?
You need to make some changes if your goal is to make a profit. Running grassers might indeed be your best choice.

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