September 1, 2011

Big day for our Heifers

Tuesday was a "big" day for our replacement heifers (the heifers we chose to keep back to replace the older cows in the herd).  In fact I look at it as a Mile Stone in their life, one that could be compared to a teenager going off to college and becoming who they will be as an adult.  Tuesday was the day that we pregnancy checked our heifers.  Those who were lucky enough to be pregnant shed there calf tag they have been wearing for the past 15-16 months and were given their "big" girl tags.  I look at this day as a mile stone in their life because the results of the day's test will dictate what this heifers life holds for her.  She will either be kept at the farm and eventually transitioned into the main cow herd where her life (the next 10 yrs or so) will be hanging out on the pastures and corn fields and raising the next generation of calves or she will be sold to the feedlot where she will help feed the world. 
328 wearing her calf tag.  She is on pasture in this picture last summer.  4-5 months old
Development of our heifers didn't just start Tuesday.  Careful planning, nutrition, health program protocols, genetics, and many other factors that get us to yesterday started before the heifer was even conceived.  Here is a quick time line of the heifer in the above picture 328.  She was born April 27, of last year.  At birth she was given a calf tag (smaller than the cow tags) which has the exact same number as her mother.  This tag even though it only has 3 number on it tells us important information.  Probably the most important of that info is who her mommy is this insures we move matched pairs (cow and calf) to pasture together and don't get them mixed up.  She is tagged in her left ear which tells us at a glace she is a she and not a he.  It also tells me her mother was born in 2003.  328 lived with her mom out on pasture till late Sept when she was weaned and hauled back to our yard.  She recieved her 1st round of vaccine (to help protect her from many viral and bacterial diseases) in May before she was moved to summer pasture.  In Sept/Oct she was then vaccinated twice (3 weeks apart), she was also wormed to get rid of any external or internal bugs that could be using her as a host to their life.  She was sorted into 1 of 2 pens (based on size) and fed a complete diet of hay, distillers grain, and mineral.  In December she along with 16 of her herd mates were chosen to be the heifers to be bred for replacement.  They were then put into a pen together and fed the same feed ingrediets to target 1.5 to 2 lbs/day weight gain.  It is important to grow the heifer big enough to give her every oportunity to become pregnant but not too big or fat because obese heifers have lower fertility.  In April 328 was turned out into our creek bottom to graze some new green grass that was starting to grow and some left over grass from last year.  May 30th we moved the heifers to a different pasture and turned the bull in with them.  5 days later we gathered them and gave them a shot of prostaglandin (hormone used to sycronize estrus) in order to "group" up the 17 heifers' heat cycles.  We want the heifers to concieve as close together as possible.  This allows them to calve in a relatively short period of time giving us a little more sleep at night.  We breed our heifers to start calving about 15 days prior to the mature cows.  This allows us to have most of the extreme babysitting done by the time the cows really get started.  On July 17 (45 days later) we moved the heifers to a new pasture and left the bull behind.  Don't worry he wasn't lonely he had a few cows to hang out with still.  We waited another 45 days which brings us to Tuesday, preg checking day.  
Sorry I didn't get any good pics of the vet ultrasounding the heifers.  But this is what the machine looks like.

With the use of an ultra sound machine our vet is capable of not only detecting if the heifer is pregnant or not but how far along in the pregnancy she is.  The machine is very similar to the ones used for humans.  The use of ultra sound allows us to evaluate if our breeding program is working like we expect and gives us some marketing options on any of the open (not pregnant) heifers.  The heifers are also sprayed with fly spray to help them stay more comfortable as we are getting to the time of year where flys are relentless and given their first scour guard vaccine.  We use this vaccine to aid in preventing scours (diarrhea) in our baby calves and we are able to vaccinate the cow and that immunity is passed from mother to baby inside the uterus.  We have to give the vaccine twice to cows or heifers who have never received the vaccine before and then they will get a booster every spring before they start calving.  These heifers will get their 2nd shot when we vaccinate the cows next spring.  We removed the calf tags that the heifers were given 15 months ago at birth and replace them with 2 (1 in each ear) cow tags (larger than the calf tag) which is their new permanent identification number.  This 3 digit new number will belong to each heifer as long as she stays in our herd.  We put 2 tags in because they tend to loose them sometimes and it gives us a back up tag to make sure we always know who is who.  The first digit of the number is the last number in the year the heifer was born.  328 was born in 2010 so her new number is 034.  Now the heifers will hang out on another pasture until we get ready to move the main cow herd to cornstalk fields for winter grazing. 
Our conception rate goal is 90-95%.  This year we had 100% pregnant heifers so they all get to stay on the farm for now.  WOOHOO !!!
001 formerly know as baby 455 is patiently wait to rejoin her friends. 

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