How low is too low when selecting low birth weight bulls?

Gayle Smith
Tuesday, December 29, 2015 1:21 PM
An interesting question came up when a panel of seedstock producers took the stage during an open house at the University of Nebraska Gudmundsen Research facility in Whitman, Neb. A producer from the audience wanted to know if he selects bulls for lower birth weights, is he short-changing himself?
There has been a lot of buzz around the industry lately about how low is too low when selecting bulls for birth weight. No one wants to pull a calf, but is there a point where selecting a bull for too low of a birth weight is going too extreme?
The panelists seem to think so. Jerry Connealy of Connealy Angus in Whitman, Neb., reminds producers that birth weight and yearling weight are highly correlated traits. “When generations upon generations spread bulls with heavy birth weight or light birth weight stacked upon each other, we have defeated those antagonisms,” he says. “That correlation is still real, and its still there. In the Angus breed, we have conquered a lot of that. I wouldn’t recommend to anyone stacking light birth weight on top of light birth weight. Piling negative upon negative, you will eventually get a finer boned, frailer calf that will be a less rugged animal in the end,” he added.
Loren Berger of Berger’s Herdmasters in North Platte says producers should select bulls for birth weight based on what their end point is for their cattle. “I visited several feedlots who wanted to feed my cattle, and they all told me they want to take the Continental cross cattle to 1,450 to 1,500 pounds,” he says. “Most 65 pound birth weight calves will struggle to get to that, and still have an acceptable yield grade.”
Berger sees producers who are concerned about birth weight making some adjustments in their herd. “I think those producers need to separate the cows from the heifers. A cow can give birth to a heavier calf, and have the calf get up and nurse right away, and do all this in a harsh environment. If these cows are limited to giving birth to a 65 pound calf, in my mind, that calf is a loss. I think 85-90 pounds may be more ideal in most situations,” he explains. “I feel most producers are making a big sacrifice if they take low birth weight to the extreme in the mature cows.”
Connealy says too light a calf can also have more health issues. “There is certainly some buzz out there that short gestation calves have less developed lungs, causing us to see more sickness and other negative ramifications,” he says.
“In this industry, we are guilty of being plungers. We can’t moderate,” Connealy continues. “We think if a lighter calf is good, then an even lighter one is better. We have to stop somewhere. I think we are pushing that more than we need to. A cow can have a calf that weights 85-90 pounds, and we can still use the natural correlation between birth weight and yearling weight to our advantage. Heifer bulls need to be used as heifer bulls, even if we don’t like to pull calves,” he states.
Despite a trend toward lighter birth weight calves, the panelists still see cow size continuing to climb. “I see cow size continuing to increase as an industry,” Connealy says. “In the Angus industry, and particularly in our own business, we are struggling to hold cow size, and even decrease it from what it was in the 80s, when we were selecting those taller frame bulls,” he explains.
As an industry, these panelists see cow size continuing to increase unless there is a joint effort to select replacement heifers that aren’t on top or even at the higher middle end for size. “We need to select the smaller heifers,” Connealy says. “It is easy to say, but when you are standing out there selecting your replacements, it is very hard to do.”
Panel moderator, Matt Spangler, points out conversations he has had with ranchers looking to decrease the size of their cows. “A lot of the time, I talk to the rancher who wants to moderate his cowherd, and walk him through what he needs to buy for a bull. Then, at load out, I see him loading up the highest growth, heaviest muscled bull on the sale. The problem is in part what these guys put on offer, but it is also having the discipline to go to the sale and say ‘I may buy the bull that is below the breed average for milk, or above the breed average for birth weight, because I plan to use him for my cows’.”
“In the end, the key is having the discipline to buy what you truly need,” Spangler tells the audience. “That is what will have the most tremendous impact on where we go from here with cow size.”
John Odea
Conversation Starter · February 5 at 8:29 AM
Jake and I went to a Cattlemans education evening held by UNL extension. Was very interesting and educational. Some really big take a ways from the meeting: 1. The cow calf sector is a struggle for nearly all producers. I was impressed that academia acknowledged this. 2. They presented documented proof from over 4800 cows on the research ranch over nearly the last twenty years that 1000 pound cows can produce 1400 pound fat steers that gain 4 pounds per day. 3. Birth weight is a major determining factor in profitability. A heifer bull should never be used on cows after he is too large for breeding heifers. The difference in Birth weight correlates all the way to harvest. A calf born light will nearly always be behind the bigger birth weight calves.
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Ellie Ives
Ellie Ives Interested in the birth weight thing. What is considered to light for good growth? And is there a cut off as far as how big of birth weight before you no longer see increased profitability? We prefer 80 to 100 lb bw.
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John Odea
John Odea They didn’t give specifics. I think from personal experience, 1100 pound cows can have 100 pound cows unassisted. We have recip cows that have 100 pound plus calves unassisted.
I like 70 pound calves for heifers and 90 pound calves for cows.
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard In general, birthweight and yearling weight are highly correlated
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Kit West

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B.j. Jones
B.j. Jones The weaning weight of a dead calf is disastrously low
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Perry Neal
Perry Neal The profitability of a dead cow is even lower.
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Bob Kinford
Bob Kinford But you can recoup some of the loss in romal reins and reatas Perry
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BenJenny Dimond
BenJenny Dimond What is the makeup of the cows on the research ranch? What kind of bulls are they bred too?
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Perry Neal
Perry Neal Bob Kinford Only if you know how to process and braid a hide. That leavrse out Haha. I’ve heard that you’re good at braiding knots maybe you could show me.
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Bob Kinford
Bob Kinford Whoever told you that was lying Perry. I’m so knot deficient I can’t tie a square knot the same way twice…Get past 3 on a braid and it looks like a pile of spaghetti to me.
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Perry Neal
Perry Neal Bob Kinford 😂😂
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John Odea
John Odea BenJenny Dimond, the cows are red Angus based I believe, but I am not positive. They keep replacements and try to run it like a real world sandhills ranch.
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BenJenny Dimond
BenJenny Dimond John Odea are they bred red angus? Did they talk about crossbreeding?
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John Odea
John Odea BenJenny Dimond, I can’t answer that. The calves were being managed in a yearling program. They were not going in as “calf feds”.
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Hazy Delzer
Hazy Delzer BenJenny Dimond If they are taking about the GSL herd they are Husker Red Composite. Which is made up of red angus, Gelbvieh and/or simmental.
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BenJenny Dimond
BenJenny Dimond John Odea. Thank you. I would have liked to have gone to that talk
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Travis Mulliniks
Travis Mulliniks BenJenny Dimond I would be more than happy to send you the slides that I presented last night that John mention
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BenJenny Dimond
BenJenny Dimond Travis Mulliniks When will you do another presentation? I would be interested in attending.
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Travis Mulliniks
Travis Mulliniks BenJenny Dimond Monday Feb 11th in Franklin, NE. It is an afternoon (1:00) meeting.
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BenJenny Dimond
BenJenny Dimond Thank you
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Kit West

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Beverly Montgomery
Beverly Montgomery Hunter Montgomery
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Robert Cox
Robert Cox UNL did some kind of test on the birthweight using two groups of calves, and I can’t remember the exact details, but it essentially said that 1 pound of birthweight equaled 6 lbs of weaning weight. So calf A is born at 80 pounds and weans at 550, and c…See More
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John Odea
John Odea The figures we saw last night were not that detailed. Was interesting to see the 1400 pound cows calves were only about 70 pounds heavier than the 1000 pound cows calves at harvest. Feedlot performance was flat between the two groups.
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Robert Cox
Robert Cox I can’t remember all the details so don’t quote me on any numbers, it just makes a guy want to push the envelope on birthweight. Some calves don’t weigh 60 pounds coming out. If you can get 25 more lbs of birthweight without assistance you should.
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Kit West

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Chad Conard
Chad Conard Some articles on the topic and questions that have come up in the comments so far
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard https://cattlebusinessweekly.com/…/How…/1/456/7773…
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CATTLEBUSINESSWEEKLY.COM
How low is too low when selecting low birth weight…
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard https://beef.unl.edu/…/201…/MP106_pg018_Benell_et_al.pdf
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard https://beef.unl.edu/…/2019…/MP106_pg024_Whittier.pdf
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Carolyn Belden Carson
Carolyn Belden Carson Chad Conard very good article!
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Kit West

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Tyler Nielson
Tyler Nielson Did Travis mulinick put that on John Odea. He has a lot of really good research on cow size and milk production as well.
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John Odea
John Odea Yes
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Kit West

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Kevin Meyer
Kevin Meyer .
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Dustin Mills
Dustin Mills Do you know where i could find the research article on th this, for further study?
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard I posted in comments above
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Kit West

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Chad Conard
Chad Conard “This study retrospectively evaluated the effect of cow size on cow-calf performance and post-weaning steer feedlot performance of cows at the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory, Whitman. Cows were catego- rized at small, medium, or moderate within cow ag…See More
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard Another one that interested me —- situations where March calving may be superior and require less supplementation than May calving —- which is against the common thoughts around matching up “with nature” —- cows peak lactation and rebreeding in later c…See More
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John Odea replied · 1 Reply
Dennis Glanzer
Dennis Glanzer Why shouldn’t U use low birth weight Bulls on your cows ???
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Myron Durfee
Myron Durfee Dennis Glanzer there is a direct correlation between birth weight and mature size. Heavier birth weight = larger frame lighter birth weight= smaller frame.
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Dennis Glanzer
Dennis Glanzer Myron Durfee and this is a bad thing when breeding for a mamma cow ??
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Chad Conard
Chad Conard Not sure about mature size, but birthweight and yearling weight are correlated, so there is a $ impact there. Interesting from their cow size study (linked above) — smallest cows weren’t the most profitable — 1150-1200 lbs cows (in their system) was the sweet spot
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Myron Durfee
Myron Durfee Dennis Glanzer frame 5 cow takes less groceries to produce then frame 6 cow. It is just something to consider
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Dennis Glanzer
Dennis Glanzer Myron Durfee U must have misunderstood me . I’m sure 85 percent of my bull battery is calving ease
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Myron Durfee
Myron Durfee Dennis Glanzer but the same problem exists on that end as well. When you start stacking too much light weight you can get to small of framed cow
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Dennis Glanzer
Dennis Glanzer Myron Durfee I’m still sorting off heifers too big for my liking 8 years into this.
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Kit West

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Kit West
Kit West Dallas Mount
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Todd Michael
Todd Michael I’ve said that for years about low birth weight bulls. But unfortunately alot of fellers I’ve worked for only think about the initial expense of buying bulls. I’ve tried to explain that the herd will recoup the money on the other end at sale time.
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Chad Conard replied · 1 Reply