Most of us are still calving, but breeding season is just around the corner. If you are running an artificial breeding program, or thinking of starting one, you need to know the best, and easiest way to pen your breeders. Many operations not only make more work out of heat detection than necessary, but also work against themselves and the cattle in doing so. This is evident with all of the stories about how wild cattle are to pen when it is time to breed.
The fact is, that when handled properly, at the proper time, the cattle will almost pen themselves. To understand this, we must first understand the mental and physiological state of cattle when they cycle.Two to three days before a cow is actually in heat, they become agitated and are starting to think about breeding. They will be in the groups of hot cows, butting heads and riding the cows which are actually hot, as well as others which are close to being in heat. The cows which are actually hot only have breeding on their mind. For the eight to twelve hours they are actually in heat they seldom graze or drink, and ignore their calf in search of a bull. This is the time you need to be penning them, when they are hot and wanting to breed. If you drive or ride through the cattle and mark down the numbers of the cows in heat, then pen them when it is time to breed, you are working against yourself. At this point the cow is tired and interested in relieving that tight bag, eating, drinking, and resting. This makes them harder to find, and because they are tired, it also makes them harder to handle. Penning cattle when they are hot and looking for a bull, or other cattle in heat makes them both easy to find, and pen. The first thing you need to do is to place your breeding pen(s) in an area which is either visible to your cattle, or in an area they will naturally flow to. The pens need to have three sections. One to hold your cattle being bred. A second area to hold hot cows waiting to be bred, and a pen to bring hot cattle into that is large enough to sort off the ones not quite in standing heat.
When you start that group of hot cattle across the pasture they will have a tendency to run off, and of course we have the tendency to try and keep them from doing that. As long as they are moving in the general direction of the pen, don't try to hold them up. They will travel for awhile, then stop and start riding each other again. For this reason you don't want to even try keeping up with them. If you try to slow them down, they will interpret this as being chased and they won't stop. Keep pushing them and it won't be long before they will become irritated and split up. Let them keep riding a couple of minutes after you do catch up. Position yourself so that when you start them, they are headed in the general direction of the pen again. Most of the time they will take off and run to the next group of cattle and start sniffing around. There are many times that this is the stimulus a “silent heat” needs to become visible. Once you are sure there are no more hot cows in that group, start them towards the breeding pens.
When these cattle see the pens, with cattle in them they will make a beeline for the pens. Because of their one track mind at a this point, they will want to get into the pens to see if they can get what they are looking for. As long as you are patient, they will work their way around the pen and actually find their way in the gate. The whole key to making this work is having the patience to let the cattle move at their own pace and letting them go where you want rather than trying to force them. Basically, unless you do something to make them mad and quit thinking about being bred, they will want to go to the breeding pen. One other mistake that people make while penning cattle using this method is trying to get the calf to go with the cow. The cow is not the least bit interested in her calf at this point. Even if left in the pasture, she will not let the calf nurse as she is interested only in breeding and will not think about her tight bag or the calf until she is out of standing heat. As soon as she is let out of the breeding pen she will meet up with the calf at the last spot the calf nursed, or the calf will follow on its own and meet it's mother when she is let out of the breeding box. The only time you need to take the calf with you is if you are in a three cycle breeding season (which will probably happen only on a registered operation.) By the third cycle you won't be finding hot groups, but individual hot cows. At this point your hot cow will stand out because of the number of bull calves mobbing the cow. In this situation the hot cow just wants to get away from the calves. With no company in the pen she will be likely to jump out if her calf shows up. For that reason, you will want to pen her calf with her. Penning while the cattle are actually hot also works better while breeding in a feedlot situation as well. The hot cattle will come off feed earlier than the rest of the cattle and start bulling. At this point it is not only easier to spot them, you will be only working the hot group and the rest of the cattle will be out of your way. It is fairly simple to sort the heifers in standing heat from the bullers at the gate. As you work your way down the alley these hot heifers will actually act as bait to draw the hots in your other pens to the gate. If you follow this procedure and allow the cattle to work themselves you will not only pen cattle easier, you will have higher conception rates from the lack of stress on the cattle. You will also have less stress on yourself and your crew.