4 Reasons to Breed Your Cow Back after She Calves & 1 Reason Not to

You Should Breed Your Cow Back After She Calves.

Oh boy, for some reason, I like to learn everything the hard way.

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I think I know what I’m doing, but let me assure you, I do not.

For some insane reason, when we got our first milk cow I decided she needed a couple of years off from making baby cows.  I figured she was exhausted from producing life every 12 months & thought she’d enjoy a break.

I was getting plenty of milk & cream & life was good. Why would I want to mess it up with a pregnancy, drying off and months without milk?

Anyhow,  I was wrong. You were right.  I’m an idiot.  And here’s why……

After our cow, Faith, calved, we did not “breed her back.”  We were intentional in that decision.  We (I) didn’t see the need to put the stress of having a calf every 12 months on her.  We were happy to just milk her without the constant production of calves.

I have since seen the error of my ways.

Cows have calves.

Dairy cows have a beautiful cycle of calving each year.  They make milk for about 9 months.  They take a nice long rest at the end of their pregnancy.  They give you steaks a baby cow every year.  It is a beautiful set up.

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Don’t be like me.  It is good to let your cow have a calf each year.

Here are 4 reasons to breed your cow back after she has her calves.

Reason #1:  Avoid problems

Unexpected problems can come from NOT breeding a cow back.  You may end up with issues you would never had encountered if you had bred her back.

In order to keep your cow on a healthy cycle be sure to begin thinking about breeding her 2 months after she calves.  It is not wrong to begin talking to an artificial insemination (AI) technician or arranging for a bull to spend some time with your cow as soon as the calf is born.  These things take time and planning.   The bingo-window is around the 2-3 months postpartum, and it will sneak up on you.

My friend who has a dairy starts to get panicky if he has an open cow 3 months after she calves.  He wants all his girls bred back before then.

Reason #2:  Farmers “breed back” their mamma cows 2-3 months after they have a calf.  

This is a beautiful cycle that is done on purpose, intentionally and is healthy for the cow, calf and life in general.  This ensures the cow is bred before her milk production spikes.  Most farmers in these parts like to have their calves born in early spring (think snow) or early fall.  Believe it or not, the calves born in the snow are some of the healthiest you’ll ever meet.  Being born in the heat of summer is a much worse fare.  The heat and humidity is hard on the calves, not to mention, the flies are ridiculous.

When the calves are born early spring or early fall this puts your “breeding back window” (2 months later) in spring or late fall – the perfect time for breeding.  Summer is the time to avoid trying to breed.  When it’s really hot some cows simply won’t ovulate.

Reason #3: The breeders “window”

There is actually a nice window of opportunity that occurs at that 2-3 month mark after a cow has her calf.  This is the point where the cow is ovulating (usually) and coming into heat.  This is the time to get your cow bred.

If you wait past that 3 month mark you could run into trouble.  About 5 months after calving a dairy cow’s milk production will increase.  This is great for all things dairy, but terrible for conception.  Many cows will not ovulate when they are at peak milk production.

Once the heavy production phase hits, it can be very difficult to get your cow bred (pregnant).

Just to be sure you are following me here, if you breed your cow in the first 3 months after they have a baby, it is quite probable you will be successful in getting her pregnant.  About month 4, after calving, the milk production really climbs.  At 6 months you are drowning in milk.  Once a cow is at this level of production they most likely are not ovulating.  No ovulating = no conception = no baby cow.

Reason #4: You could get stuck in a pickle with an open cow.

We did not know any of this in the spring & summer when we were trying to breed our first cow.  When the calf was approaching a year old, we decided to get our cow bred.  No dice.  We waited 5 months and tried again.  Nothing.  The AI guy was stumped.  He’s not accustomed to this much defeat.

We consulted our vet.  He was the one who suspected that we missed the breeding “window” and her milk-production was just too high to get her bred.  It looked as if she just wasn’t ovulating.

She was coming into heat.  She was mooing like a mad-woman.  She was bounding around the field like a puppy.  But, it looked like she just wasn’t passing an egg.

The vet made 3 suggestions.

  1. Keep trying to breed her & hope her production slows down so she’ll ovulate. He said that her milk production should begin to slow down since it has been over a year (way over a year) since she calved.  When her milk factory backs off a bit, she should begin ovulating again.
  2. Dry up the cow so she’ll start ovulating.
  3. Get a bull.

Reason #5: The Exception – There are sometimes rule breakers, unusual circumstances and reasons to NOT breed your cow back right after calving

We have 2 Jersey cows whom are both on a horrid cycle of giving birth in the dead of summer.  We did not put them on this schedule, it’s just where we are (often when you buy a cow from someone she is already bred, therefore,  you did not get to decide the due date).

Summer is the worst season to have a newborn calf show up.  There’s high risks of disease.  There’s flies swarming everywhere.  There’s the heat, humidity and general misery that comes with summer in Kentucky.  It is very stressful on a newborn calf.  It’s equally hard on the mama’s.  In order to get our cows off a summer calving regimen and onto a cooler weather delivery we are intentionally NOT breeding our cows back just yet.

We know we are taking a gamble and could end up with an open cow.  To do our best to avoid this we are going to breed in early spring (cooler weather ups your chances of ovulation).  AND we are going to use a bull (again).  Which, by the way, is the best way to get a cow pregnant, if you ask me.

For more on Bull’s v/s AI (Artificial Insemination):

Moral of the story: Breed her back after she calves.

It’s a healthy cycle for the cow:

  • Have a calf
  • Breed back 2-3 months after calving
  • Produce milk for 9 (ish) months total
  • Have a 3 month break (dry time)
  • Have another calf

This additionally provides another cow to the farm each year – which is always a great thing.

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