Vet's Opinion

Extended Calving Season Limits Profitability

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There is no doubt that an extended calving season limits the ability of a producer to maximize profitability. To illustrate this point, I’ve created a “virtual herd.”

For this example, I threw a dart onto a map of the U.S. and happened to hit Glasgow, KY, (35 miles east of Bowling Green). For this environment, I will assume that the ideal calving season is Sept. 1 to Oct. 30, while Feb. 20 to April 30 would also be acceptable. My example herd never removes the bull from the cows, and the result is that calves essentially are born year-round.

But, if I start today, my virtual herd can have two distinct calving seasons in only 13 months. This will decrease labor, improve health, enhance marketing and improve profitability.

Let’s assume today is Oct. 1, 2011 and a cow bred today will calve July 11, 2012. We have three options:

  • Pull the bulls from the cows and put the bulls in a bull lot.
  • Pull the bulls and send them to market.
  • If you don’t have a bull lot and your bulls are genetically superior, you can shift the bulls between your fall- and spring-calving herds.

I’ve developed an easy-to-use spreadsheet calendar where you simply input your ideal calving dates and the spreadsheet will generate the dates to do the work. The spreadsheet calculations will provide the dates to move the bulls between herds, with the bulls remaining with the pregnant group when you don’t want cows getting bred. View the spreadsheet at: www.mwbeefcattle.com; click on “Beef Management Calendars.”

Next, call your herd health veterinarian to come and pregnancy check your cows tomorrow. All pregnant cows go to Pasture A, which holds a mixture of lactating and dry cows that will calve from Oct. 2, 2011 to July 11, 2012. Since today is Oct. 1, 2011, you want to put the bull with all the pregnant cows in Pasture A so that none of the open cows get bred. You don’t want calves born from July 11 to Aug. 31, 2012.

Next, all open cows go to pasture B. This group should consist of only cow-calf pairs and yearling heifers. Open dry cows should go to market, as should any “problem” cows (poor disposition, poor condition, chronic lameness, etc.) unless they have a calf that’s too young to wean.

On Nov. 1, have a breeding soundness exam (BSE) performed on all your bulls. Nationally about 10% of all bulls fail their BSE; and it is much better to know three weeks before a bull is turned out with the cows that he has breeding issues than three or more weeks after.

On Nov. 22, all bulls are turned out with cows found open at the Oct. 2 pregnancy examination. Not all these cows would have been open on Oct. 2, of course, as a few could have been bred less than 35-50 days and “felt” open, but this isn’t a concern right now.

In a herd with a spring and fall calving season, young, open cows that are in the top half of the herd can be moved (flipped) to the opposite season in an attempt to keep them in the herd. They only lose six months of productivity and can recover that loss if they stay in the herd for three or more years.

Take a pig ear-notcher and notch the ID tags of cows flipped to the next season. This provides an easy reminder of her past history; if she’s ever open again, she absolutely must go to market. Also, never flip an open yearling heifer; sell her as a long-yearling feeder calf. Heifers with poor fertility don’t deserve a second chance.

At first glance, this system might seem complicated, but it really isn’t. We’ve had many herds use this approach with great success and zero owners have gone back to year-round calving. I encourage you to save the calendar to your computer and put in your ideal calving dates. The reward is that you, not the cows, will be in charge of your herd’s calving season in just 13 months.

What's Vet's Opinion?

Three top U.S. veterinarians provide tightly focused discussion of specific beef cattle disease and welfare topics.

Contributors

Dave Sjeklocha

Dave Sjeklocha, DVM, is operations manager of animal health and welfare for Cattle Empire, LLC, Satanta, KS.

Mike Apley

Mike Apley, DVM, PhD, is a professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

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