In last week’s PCC Update, Tim Goodnight said, “Without discounting the importance of body condition at calving, I think it is important to understand that the plane of gain an animal is experiencing is equally – if not more important. Research shows that thin cows coming out of winter experiencing a positive plane of gain into the calving season will have a higher conception rate than fat cows that are experiencing a negative plane of gain because they were fed and pampered through the winter.”
Tim chose to write about this because he wanted to refute what a couple of PCC customers had said about body condition in a recent PCC Discussion thread. I’m glad he did. I would like to add a few more thoughts to this discussion. It has been many years since I wrote or said anything about what I refer to as the “diet factor.” Some of you will have no trouble relating to what I am saying.
What happens to most people when they go on a diet and successfully lose weight? They gain the weight back. In 2007, I went through a 10-day cleanse and fast, followed by a low-carb diet. It didn’t take long to lose 20 pounds. I felt good – and looked better than I had for 20 years. I had to buy Wranglers with a smaller waist size. Even though I maintained a low-carb diet, I put the weight back on.
Back in the Cave Man days, it was important for us to maintain good body condition – the more the better. Our survival depended on it. Thin, hard-keeping people didn’t last long. Consequently, our body recognizes a loss in body condition – and will do its best to restore it. As a result, we become extremely feed efficient. We make the most of every calorie we ingest. Fat that took years to store up in the first place can be restored in a fraction of the time once it has been lost. That’s the diet factor.
The same is true for cows. Cows that live off the fat on their back during the winter months will quickly regain the lost condition once they have ample forage resources. I have heard of cows gaining well over four pounds per day on nothing but spring grass. When that is happening prior to calving, conception rates will be very high. In contrast, cows that are being fed and pampered during the winter months may lose body condition when turned out on grass. Their conception rates will suffer.
You cannot take advantage of the diet factor, however, if you are not calving in sync with nature and/or with your forage resources. Nor can you take advantage of the diet factor if you have high-maintenance cows that were bred and selected to increase production per cow (bragging rights). Unfortunately, nearly all of today’s cow-calf producers have the wrong kind of cows because they continue to be focused on the wrong thing. Until they start focusing on increasing production per acre (profit), they will continue to have the wrong kind of cows.
I have come to the conclusion that most of today’s cow-calf producers pay too much attention to faulty science – and not enough attention to nature. In spite of what you have been led to believe, nature’s way is still the best way. In nature, the wild ruminants store up energy in the form of fat during the growing season – and rely on that fat to get them through the winter. Prior to giving birth to their young, they are rapidly replacing the body fat they lost. Nature’s way is not only the best way. It is also the most profitable and most enjoyable way.