Take time now to evaluate your nutrition program for the spring-calving cows. A way to do that is to evaluate the reproductive performance of the cow herd because reproduction is so closely linked to body condition of the cows and body condition is linked to the nutrition program.
The greatest loss of potential calves to wean is due to cows not getting pregnant during the breeding season. Cows that don't get pregnant during the breeding season, for spring-calving herds, are usually a result of cows being in poor body condition at calving, as a result of the nutrient management program. There can be some losses due to abortion, but these losses are few especially if you have worked with your veterinarian on a herd health and bio-security program.
Once baby calves are on the ground and have nursed their dam in a timely manner so that they get colostrum, calf losses between calving and weaning should be minimal. Calf losses at calving can be high in the plains states for spring-calving herds due to weather, extremely cold condition and snow storms accompanied by high wind and not enough protection. If the percentage of calves weaned per female exposed is in the 80's, in most situations it is nutrition related, and it should raise a red flag.
Calves and pregnant cows are worth a lot of money. Feed efficiency in the cow/calf enterprise may be best described in reproductive efficiency (pregnancy percentage), or the number of cows that have a 365 day calving interval, or the percentage of cows calving the first 21 days of the calving season. Efficiency needs to include not only output, which would be weaning weight, but also inputs, which would be cow costs.
Analyzing Reproductive Performance
Some specialists might raise the red flag if percent weaned of exposed is in the low 90's. There are producers that are profitable when percent of calves weaned of cows exposed is less than 90%. If weaned of exposed is below 90% and your cost of production allows you to have a profitable cow/calf enterprise, then the red flag is not warranted. The key is to have a good handle on cow costs.
There are Standardized Performance Analysis guidelines that outline how to calculate production measures for the cow herd. These guidelines bring standardization to performance calculations so that when comparisons are made annually, they are made using the same calculations. The SPA Performance guidelines also guide a producer through how to handle pregnant cows that are purchased or sold and other situations that may arise in regard to pregnant and non-pregnant females. SPA guideline can be found on the NCBA website.