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Angus Journal
Copyright © 2015
Angus Journal

Fetal Programming Effects

Calf performance is directly linked to dam’s gestational nutrition.

by Kasey Brown, associate editor

DAVIS, Calif. (Aug. 17, 2015) — Feed is the single most variable cost in beef production, and while studying protein supplementation during winter grazing, discoveries were made on fetal programming, said Rick Funston, a reproductive physiologist at Nebraska’s West Central Research and Extension Center. He spoke to attendees of the 2015 Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle (ARSBC) symposium in Davis, Calif., Aug. 17-18.

Rick FunstonRick Funston, a reproductive physiologist at Nebraska’s West Central Research and Extension Center

Fetal programming research is showing that nutrition of the dam before the calf is born affects the calf’s subsequent performance — all the way to harvest.
Funston shared data that November-weaned steers out of supplemented dams were more profitable.

“We took 100 pounds off calves by what we did to their mother during gestation,” he said, meaning that steers out of unsupplemented mothers weighed 100 pounds (lb.) less coming out of the feedlot than steers of supplemented mothers. Despite the additional costs of supplementation, the steers born to supplemented dams earned $877 per head, compared to $810 for steers born to unsupplemented dams. The net profit per cow was $22 for the supplemented group compared to $11 for the unsupplemented group.

Another study looked at how supplementing protein during late gestation affects those resulting heifer calves’ performance. Seventy percent of heifers out of supplemented dams calved in the first 21 days of the calving season, compared to 49% of heifers out of the unsupplemented dams. Final pregnancy rates were 93% for heifers born to supplemented dams and 80% for the heifers born to unsupplemented dams, he explained.

Comparing winter grazing and supplementation strategies, he said cornstalk residues provide a reasonably priced alternative to grazing dormant winter range. Unsupplemented grazing cows did get pregnant, but later in the breeding season. Supplementing cows on corn residue exhibited little change in calves’ performance other than higher marbling. Calves out of supplemented dams exhibited more marbling and earned higher quality grades. Supplemented calves also experience less morbidity in the feedlots.

Funston spoke during Monday’s ARSBC session focused on "the females." For more information, visit the Newsroom at to view his PowerPoint, read the proceedings or listen to the presentation.

Comprehensive coverage of the symposium is available online at Compiled by the Angus Journal editorial team, the site is made possible through sponsorship by the Beef Reproduction Task Force.

Editor's Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of the Angus Journal. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at 816-383-5270.