Category ArchiveDairy Cattle
Most of us would like to choose the sex of our calves, at least part of the time. Dairy herds resort to expensive sexed semen, which still contains a good percentage of Y sperm, and still often results in bull calves.
There is a better, and often more certain way to obtain the sex you WANT from your best cows. That 14 year old mother cow who calves every year on a 365 day cycle without a whisper of trouble, and gives you one of the biggest calves in your herd? Wouldn’t her bull make a great herd bull for your next generation? How about that beautiful family Jersey with the world’s creamiest milk- don’t you want heifer after heifer out of her?
With careful planning and a minimum of effort and extra expense, there is an easy way to achieve the desired sex of your upcoming calf.
It has to do with the HEALTH OF YOUR COW! A cow must be well mineralized and have a body pH that is moderately alkaline to conceive a HEIFER. If her body pH is more acid, she has a high likelihood of conceiving a BULL. Yes, the bull has a hand in it, but the cow is in control. Have you ever noticed that the majority of calves in the front end of your calving season are usually heifers? Those are the healthiest cows- they bred up, or bred back, the most quickly last year.
How do you get there?
Here are several tips that have worked for us in conceiving the calf sexes that we’d like:
1. Remineralize your pastures! The most expensive method up front, but the one that gives the most returns to YOUR ranch over time, is to improve the health and productivity of your own soils. Minerals are most available to the cattle from mineralized, healthy plants.
2. Mineralize your cattle! While cattle would rather get their minerals from healthy plants, the bacteria in their gut can digest and incorporate ground up rocks from the mineral box. Purebred cattle, with their lack of hybrid vigor (yet how could we have hybrids without those purebred genetics??) DO probably need a better mineral program than commercial hybrids.
We have had the best luck with Jim Helfter’s ABC Plus free choice mineral program- 100% conception, 100% healthy calves across 5 years- a record that pays for the more expensive minerals. We tried Mark Bader’s Free Choice minerals, but lost 6 out of 31 calves to anemia- never took their first breath, or died within 24 hours- pretty expensive! We have also talked with numerous cattle producers, from around the country, whose cattle “will not conceive & carry a calf with artificial insemination”, or “who only conceive bulls, not replacement heifers!” Our universal advice is to improve their mineral program. Cattle KNOW what they need on a daily, seasonally adjusted basis. Give them choices, and they’ll keep themselves healthy.
3. Give your mineralized cows adequate rest after nursing that calf, before calving again. While most cows CAN calve out healthy calves, and rebreed, with only a 45-60 day dry period, their body recovery and condition is more likely to conceive a bull.
We have found that if we give our average cows- Devons, crossbreds, or the higher producing Jerseys, all 100% grassfed- at least 80 “dry” days, and then rebreed them in the 70+days postpartum window, we’ll get heifers.
The highest producing cattle, usually the ones that are thinnest going into the dry period and have raised the biggest calves, might need a longer dry period, and an 80-90 day rest post partum while they are only nursing, to give you a heifer. Three of our smallest commercial red cows (who were also raising the fattest calves with the highest meat-to-bone ratio) received 150 days rest after their 5th consecutive bull calf, the last of which we sold as grassfed veal last year. Each one of them conceived a heifer the following year.
If our goal is bulls, we can stress our cattle a bit more. Good minerals are still a must, as deep bodied bulls only come from healthy mothers. However, if one allows last year’s calf to nurse a bit longer- a 60 day dry period for the cow- or rebreeds that cow quickly postpartum, at 45-60 days, the next year’s calf is likely to be a bull.
4. Select and cull your BREEDING herd, keeping only the healthiest cows. Keep the cows with the 365 day breeding seasons (the next healthy calf arrives 365 days after the previous one). Those cows have proven their genetic herd worth. Fertility, mothering, ease of calving, longevity, are all embodied in those older cows. No sense selling the “average” ones if they still work for you. Just don’t keep their offspring in the breeding herd- that’s where your sale barn or retail beef program comes in handy!
These “best cows” will still give adequate bull calves to maintain the development of sale bulls, but you’ll be able to build your replacement heifers easily, and have plenty to sell over time as replacements and breeding stock for others. We only make real money on a cow AFTER her 4th calf. The best breeders have a good stock of old ladies, still producing healthy calves! That’s where we should be seeking our next round of semen, should we go “off ranch” for new genetics.
I always ask WHY do cows conceive like this? My theory:
The male offspring of a “cow interested in genetic longevity”, a bull, normally gets a LOT of chances to create that cow’s grandchildren. If she’s a bit stressed at conception, her genetics will pass down more easily with a bull calf.
The female offspring of that same foresighted cow will only bear a few calves during HER lifespan. Far better to conceive that heifer calf with the possibility of deep heart girth, great mineralization, adequate body fat to carry that heifer calf to a healthy, strong birth, and healthy “grand calves”!
Have fun, fall in love with the old ladies who still have healthy heifer calves at their sides, and enjoy the challenge of building sturdy, low maintenance, sustainable genetics for the 21st century of grassfed producers!
October 18, 2009
Cupcake is maintaining about two and a quarter gallons a day. This week Cora had a snotty nose and was looking a little down so we fasted her for a day, giving us a spike in milk from Cupcake.
Dairy Cattle saboranch on 07 May 2009
“Sabo’s Ladine”, born October 2008, (photographed March 2009) sired by New Zealand Jersey bull Beldene Dukes Landy. Sabo Ladine is an A1/A2 Jersey calf and will be bred here to an A2 Jersey bull. For more about A2 milk, see http://curezone.com/blogs/fm.asp?i=1259149 .
Ladine’s dam, Lena, is our highest producing, most slender Jersey/Guernsey cow. Lena gives about 3 – 3 1/2 gallons of milk per day on a once-a-day milking, 100% grassfed.
Ladine is now a mother several times over, working hard and being loved in western Montana. She has even sent one of her daughters, “Liberty”, back to the Bozeman area to help another farm family with their own family’s milk needs. Update, September 2014!
Our cattle are 100% grassfed, and also consume apple cider vinegar, kelp meal, and a cultured yeast , free choice, for greater health. We use fencing and management of our livestock to keep our watercourses clean and our land welcoming to wildlife.
Our Devon beef cattle herd is a mixture bred from our North Devon bull and Red Angus cows. We continue to select over time for gourmet, tender, flavorful 100% grassfed beef. We use no hormones or backgrounded antibiotics, and have no feedlots of any kind.
Our calves are born in the spring on green grass, in May and June, and are not weaned until they are at least 9 months old. North Devon cattle, in particular the Rotokawa Devon herd that sired our bull, are well known for tender, gourmet 100% grassfed beef.
Our Jersey influence herd of cattle is also 100% grassfed, grazing out in the fields all summer, and supplemented in the winter months with the most nutritious hay we can grow. Our breeding program seeks out the most adapted genetics for 100% grassfed Jerseys, slowly building a top quality herd for creamy milk and tender gourmet meat.
We milk our cows only once a day, and calves live with their mothers at least part time until they are 4 months old, then nurse once daily until they are at least 9 months old. Each Jersey cow, depending on her conformation, is given at least 2 months rest from lactation before she calves again, allowing her to dedicate her energies to the healthiest calf possible.
For more information about our grassfed beef, see the Guidelines and Philosophies page.
This slightly blurry photo, taken at dusk, shows a newly grazed, now resting area of pasture on the right, and a yet-ungrazed section on the left. We use these electric fence ribbons in much of our grazing management, allowing us to quickly graze, then rest, our pastures, allowing for maximum grass growth and pasture regeneration.
We only wanted the cows to graze the right hand portion, which they did over a two day period. This area is full of common tansy, a plant whose tea can cause abortions in humans.
However, it is also a natural cattle wormer, and high in calcium. Previous to this, the cows grazed sections of our hayfield (back portion of this photo), a mixture of grasses and clovers. Upon introduction to the “weedy” area here along the irrigation ditch, they consumed every tansy plant in sight.
Within several days, as they moved along the ditch, their tansy consumption was down to nearly nil. They had their fill, consumed the minerals and medicinals they needed, and passed back, free choice, to primarily grass consumption.