As the reproduction rate of beef cattle in South Africa is generally low, helping animals produce according to their genetic potential requires careful planning and effective, economical nutrition programmes. A producer’s income potential is determined mainly by the reproduction rate of the animals, the replacement rate in the herd, and the number of animals available for marketing post-weaning.

Each production system has certain production criteria that must be defined clearly in order to guarantee success. Among them, weaning percentage is vital, and the producer should aim for a weaning percentage of at least 85%.

Read more about the nutritional management of production animals

However, the most challenging aspect is the reconception rate of first calvers, with a resulting weaning percentage of less than 60% for this group of animals. The target for confirmed reconception should be 82 days post-calving in order to attain a 365-day intercalving period (ICP).

Nutrition for fertility

In addition to the genetic potential and adaptability of the herd to their environment, nutrition remains one of the most manageable aspects when it comes to reproduction. An important fact to consider is that individual nutrients cannot dramatically improve reproduction potential. The emphasis should instead be on a balanced long-term nutrition programme. One must also be able to measure the success of the nutrition programme against specific production goals.

One of the main causes of low fertility is an energy deficit and its balance in relation to protein and other nutrients. Energy is essential for growth and maturation, follicle development and ovulation, as well as maintenance of the placenta and related organs during gestation. Energy imbalances often lead to metabolic disorders that can, in turn, cause abortions or difficult births, offspring with poor viability and a low survival rate.

Protein also affects the growth and maturation of sexual organs and hormone production. Animals should therefore be fed according to their protein requirements. For this reason, heifers and first calvers should be managed as a separate group to mature cows. These animals have additional nutritional requirements for growth and should receive a better-quality supplement with higher levels of protein than the mature cow group. Their body mass and condition score must be managed properly to ensure optimal growth, but without allowing the animals to become overly fat.

Complete fodder flow programme

In addition to the main nutrients, the role of minerals, trace minerals and vitamins should not be overlooked, especially when reproduction is considered. There are specific nutrients that have a direct influence on reproduction; however, these nutrients should not be considered in isolation.

It is important to follow a well-planned fodder flow programme, especially during the critical 100-day period around calving (the last 30 days of gestation and the first 70 days of lactation). Maintenance during this period is not enough as cows’ requirements stretch beyond that – licks should therefore be provided at higher intakes.

Nutri Lick Winterbreaker 32 (V3342, N-FF1067) is an economic lick with protein, energy and minerals that provides enough trace minerals to sustain reproduction. It contains excellent rumen degradable protein (320g/kg) and enough fermentable energy sources for good microbial activity in the rumen. Nutri Lick Winterbreaker 32 is especially suitable for late winter when grazing is limited, and it can be used successfully for replacement heifers and cows with calves.

Nutrition for late gestation

However, when the cow enters the last 30 days of gestation, the lick needs to be upgraded to a production lick that provides enough energy. Nutri Lick Production (V28671, N-FF3733) for sheep and cattle contains enough high-quality protein (250g/kg), high levels of grain (energy), as well as minerals to support the production of ruminants on poor quality grazing in late winter.

This lick requires no further mixing. However, if there is a need to self-mix a production lick, Nutri Lick Concentrate 4-1-5 (V28673, N-FF3735) can be used successfully.

Lick supplement for dry grazing

If the grazing remains dry post-calving, Nutri Lick Cow and Calf (V28670, N-FF3732) can be used. It contains high levels of protein (300g/kg) for the economical production of cows with calves on dry grazing and limits the loss in body weight and condition of the lactating cow in order to promote reconception.

It also supports milk production, which promotes calf weaning weight. The inclusion of molasses syrup makes it palatable and thus promotes intake.