The importance of production licks on the rebreeding percentage of first-calf cows and heifers

Due to the fact that the first-calf cow still grows after calving, she has higher feeding requirements than mature beef production cows. This is where farmers lose a lot of money with low rebreeding percentages. The protein requirements of a first-calf cow with a mass of 400 kg are approximately 1 kg per day to ensure adequate growth and condition for rebreeding. The same mature cow will require 860 g of protein/day and a dry cow will only require 530 g protein/day.

Research in South Africa proved that the rebreeding percentage differs by 20% between cows which calf at a body condition score of 2 vs 3.5 on a scale of  1 (extremely thin) and 5 (fat). It is therefore critically important for your cattle to maintain their condition during the last part of the winter.

The peak weight of cows at the end of the summer also has a huge influence on the mass changes which will be experienced during the winter. The lower the mass at the beginning of the winter, the lower the mass will be at the end of the winter, which will then delay the cow's recovery process and will decrease the probability of successful breeding after calving. Should the grazing quality decline during early autumn, resulting in lower and early peak mass, a production lick such as Molatek Condition Lick (V17730) or the maintenance licks, Molatek Protein Lick (V16048), Wenlek, (V14344) and Dryveldlick (V20820) 50:50 should be given to the cows, mixed with grain. Make sure that heifers and cows in the late stage of pregnancy receive 200 - 250 g of protein during late winter, depending on the frame score and grazing quality.

Protein provided to growing pregnant first-calf heifers must be made up of a mixture of protein from non-protein nitrogen and natural protein, since natural protein, such as protein obtained from cotton-oilcake, improves frame score. Natural protein in licks are particularly beneficial for young, growing animals and cows during pregnancy and lactation. Molatek combines natural protein with NPN in Molatek Condition Lick (V17730), which can be given to young, growing animals for the full duration of the winter, and to cows in a late stage of pregnancy at the end of the winter, when the cows' supplementary protein requirements are higher. During late pregnancy the cow's protein and energy requirements are higher and the trace mineral requirements increase by 40% due to the requirements of the fetus. Calves born with trace mineral deficiencies have a lower resistance against bacterial infections and they die easily within the first three months after birth.

It is extremely important for the first-calf cow to reach or maintain the ideal condition (body condition score of a minimum of 2.5 and ideally 3.5) after calving, which will ensure successful rebreeding. Should she not reach the correct condition/mass at the time of breeding, it would translate to the direct loss of a calf, as well as the cost of carrying the animal for another year.

First-calf heifers with a low conception rate can be culled immediately if the percentage of unsuccessful conception within the group is not too high and in the region of 15%. It could indicate animals which are not as hardy and which are less adaptable to the conditions on the specific farm - it could serve as a good selection method.

The following will prevent low calving percentages by first-calf cows:

  • Provide sufficient phosphate. 6 - 12 g/cow/day. Use Molatek Foslick (V16059) at 120 – 240 g/cow/day or Fosblock (V22502) at 100 – 200g/cow/day.
  • Breed heifers, if possible, a month before the rest of the herd, to allow them a longer recovery period before the second breeding. Care should, however, be taken with the system, since it is not always practically possible within the farming set-up - the period until green grazing will be available again, is much longer and larger quantities of production lick has to be provided.
  • Provide Molatek production licks as recommended above to pregnant and growing heifers, at least from August to at least a month after the first good summer rains. The production lick can be continued with if the body condition score is lower than 3 by breeding time. Remember, the first-calf heifer should weigh approximately 85% of her mature body mass when calving for the first time.
  • Creep feeding for the calves of first-calf cows will also limit weight loss of cows, due to the fact that the calf will require less milk and it will be possible to wean the calves at an earlier stage.
  • Correct grazing management must be applied. 

The focus with lick supplements should be to approach it as a complete system and not to compartmentalise it in seasons. Adjust your system to changing feeding conditions.