Herd management: Get with the (fetal) program

Herd management: Get with the (fetal) program

Maximising the genetic potential of calves is all about taking nutritional care of the cows.

Maximising the genetic potential of calves is all about taking nutritional care of the cows.


Maximising the genetic potential of calves is all about taking nutritional care of the cows.


WITH weaning now mostly complete and a power of feed across many beef production areas, the cow herd looks a picture of health.

Much of eastern Australia has gone from virtually no pasture in late 2019 and early 2020, to an abundance of feed.

Previously drought-stressed cows have bounced back into desirable score three and four conditions, setting up the herd for next season's calves.

However, despite the amazing bulk of feed, much of the pasture is now maturing and dry matter intake will start decreasing across the board.

Not only does this decrease the supply of energy and protein to the animal, but it can also limit crucial minerals.

This can seriously impact on the condition of the cow and the developing calf, especially in the final trimester when almost 70 per cent of fetal growth occurs.

Given the objective of a commercial beef operation is to produce as profitable a calf as possible, particular attention needs to be development of the fetus.

Obviously for a calf to be able to grow and to maximise its genetic potential, the nutrition provided to the cows needs to be optimised.

Like a jig-saw, every component in the nutrition puzzle - the macro and trace minerals, the vitamins, the protein and energy - all needs to be considered and how they interact to achieve that development objective.

Certainly the better the head start the fetus receives during gestation, the better its long term health, performance and ultimate profitability.

It's worth noting that restricted nutrition during early pregnancy can also negatively impact on organ development. That can be a major restriction on productivity later in a calf's life.

Previously, it was common to think that the absence of clinical deficiency symptoms meant trace mineral levels were adequate.

Now we know that even without clinical symptoms, an animal can still be a long way from performing at its best. The objective is to have an animal with an optimum, rather than an adequate mineral status.

As our understanding of the limitations of Australia's soils and pastures become better understood, the need for mineral supplementation is becoming widely accepted in many beef production systems.

The motivation is productivity. Mineral supplements are a sound investment to help secure a well performing calf.

The challenge on mature pastures is to ensure that in-calf cows are able to access a consistent source of essential nutrients.

One obvious method of delivery is a loose lick supplement, which can be formulated with Alltech's highly effective Bioplex trace minerals.

Bioplex contains five key trace minerals: Zinc, copper, cobalt, manganese and selenium. All of which are critical to the development of the fetus, as well as a cow's metabolic health and productivity.

Each of the five minerals are combined with an amino acid, which allows for greater absorption through the wall of intestinal tract into the blood stream.

Historically, inorganic trace minerals, such as oxides and sulphates, have been used. Unfortunately, these usually have very limited value to an animal, sometimes less than 10 per cent availability. There is also the risk inorganic trace minerals can antagonise beneficial nutrients.

Trace minerals can also play an important role alongside phosphorus, calcium and magnesium, which help to combat metabolic diseases including pregnancy toxemia.

So what does it cost?

Feeding a breeder with a loose lick for the last 200 days of gestation will cost somewhere between $60 to $120/cow.

That is based on the inclusion of the Alltech Bioplex mineral pack, which will cost about 7.5c/head/day. There are also all of the other required vitamins and macro minerals, which cost 30c to 60c/head/day for a low intake drylick with daily consumptions of 100-200 grams per head per day.

Quantifying the benefits of a mineral supplement program is best done over a 12 month cycle. To be successful will require long term year round investment but the returns are there and today's highly efficient beef herds are proving this.

  • Toby Doak is a northern beef production specialist with Alltech Lienert Australia.

The story Herd management: Get with the (fetal) program first appeared on Queensland Country Life.


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