How to Rebound from High Open Rates

Apr 09, 2024

High cattle open rates recorded in areas across Western Canada last year mean affected beef producers should be setting up their herds for success now. 

A report from the Western Canadian Animal Health Network (WeCAHN) said that open rates were “all over the map” – from 2 to 3 percent up to 40+ percent in the third quarter of 2023. The averages were a bit higher at 10 to 12 percent versus 8 to 10 percent in 2022.   

The Problem
Experts agree it’s a multi-year, multi-factor problem. Drought, early snow and other adverse weather conditions have resulted in poor forage quality and compromised water quality in many regions. The results have manifested in lower calving distribution rates.  

“Herds with cows that have good body condition have an open rate of about 5 to 8 percent, and I’ve been hearing stories about herds with poorer body conditions that are as high as 50 percent,” says Barry Yaremcio, a Camrose, Alberta, based independent consulting nutritionist with decades of experience.

Dr. Jason McGillivray says that, in the Kamloops, British Columbia area, the problems started in the 2021-22 winter when there was lower feed quality followed by a dry spring. 

“During the pregnancy checks of the fall of 2021, we noticed that more cows were going to be calving later, and the following year, more of those cows were calving later still,” Dr. McGillivray says. 

In that area, November 2023 brought a big snowstorm, which disrupted ranchers’ extended grazing programs, which normally would go into January.  

“In some of the herds, they had to feed earlier with lower quality hay, and those cows were in poor body condition,” he says. The multiple punches of later calving and an early winter followed by drought meant that open rates were up.  

In his area, Dr. McGillivray said another contributing factor in some herds was wolf predation through the breeding and grazing season, which put cows under tremendous stress. 

In Brooks, Tabor and Lethbridge, Alberta, Dr. Blake Balog says data from his practice indicated that, on average, open rates were about 12 percent for cows and 14 percent for heifers.  

“In that mix, we had some pretty high highs and pretty low lows,” he says, adding that shorter breeding seasons had up to 90 percent bred and, on the other end, some groups went to 20 percent open.  

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