Drylot Breeding Cows

Producer Question from 2012

Q.  What effect does dry-lotting breeding cows have on conception rates and fertility in general? (June 29, 2012)

A.  I seem to be getting this question more and more and this is likely due to the annual increase in pasture prices. I have searched and can't find data where they have drylotted cows and bred for an entire breeding season. There are data where they have drylotted cows and AI'ed then turned to pasture and natural bred. The conception rate to AI (AI'ed once) in these experiments was in the 60% range which would be pretty typical. Following are my comments in regard to advantages and disadvantages of dry-lotting beef cows.

As pasture prices continue to increase, producers will look for ways to lower production costs, especially feed cost, and dry-lotting cows may be an option. If you do dry-lot cows, it would be important that the lot be big enough or you have an adjacent pasture that can be used as an exercise lot.

When you indicate dry-lotting cows, I assume that cows may have calves at their side and breeding may occur in the lot.

Herd health issues to address or be aware of include:

  • Cows could have more feet and legs problems.
  • Calves need to be able to get away from the cows, especially during the breeding season.
  • Producers need to be good at managing the diet.
  • Bulls need to be observed frequently during the breeding season for injury.

Disadvantages:

  • Labor and feeding equipment is needed to deliver a ration.
  • Feed bunks are needed, with 24 to 36 inches of bunks space per head.
  • Hay needs to be ground so you can mix in low quality forages to make the diet more economical.
  • A more intensive herd health program is needed for both cows and calves.

Advantages:

  • May reduce total production costs and work in a system where cows are able to graze low cost crop residue during the fall and winter.
  • Producers can use low quality forages and mix in ethanol by-products or grain and supplements to meet the needs of the herd.
  • Calves are ready eat out of a bunk once they are weaned - bunk broke.
  • Artificial insemination may be easier because cows are probably close to a chute and working facility.
  • Cows will have lower nutrient/energy requirements than in a pasture setting due to less exercise occurring in a dry-lot environment

Dr. Rick Rasby Dr. Rick Rasby, Professor of Animal Science
Animal Science, University of Nebraska - Lincoln, Lincoln, NE