The selection of a calving season could well be one of the most important economic decisions made on a ranch, says Burke Teichert. But the general manager of the Rex Ranch, Ashby, NE, part of one of the nation's largest cow-calf operations, warns that changes in calving season and weaning date can cause or require many other changes in a cow-calf production system.
“From personal experience I know that a change in calving season can, but won't always, make a huge difference in ranch profit,” Teichert says.
Since so many things can be affected by a change in calving season, one can't assess the complete effect of the change without considering the coincidental changes, he says.
Here's his list of factors deserving consideration:
Climatic and resource constraints. The feed quantity and quality available before, during and after the calving season can eliminate several choices or result in additional expenditures. It's the same for the availability of protection and stock water.
Competing enterprises. Sometimes work required in another enterprise — crops or other livestock — may make it difficult or impossible to calve at certain seasons. Don't let a few dollars in the small enterprise deprive you of big dollars in the large enterprise.
Winter feed costs. This is perhaps the biggest, most important concern as the economic consequences can be huge. Many producers have significantly reduced or eliminated hay production and feeding by using marginal hay land for grazing and buying supplemental hay.
But it's important to know your hay costs. So is figuring the effect on carrying capacity when you convert from haying to purchasing hay — or to just grazing alone.
Changes in carrying capacity. Difficult to estimate without some experience on your own ranch, Teichert says there may be a little reduction when you switch from haying to grazing until your grazing and pasture management under the new system improves. However, if you buy all your hay needs, it will result in an increase in carrying capacity that's relatively easy to calculate.
Potential changes in non-feed costs. When changing a calving date, be sure to consider possible changes in labor for range and pasture management, cattle care and machine care and maintenance.
Weaning dates may or may not change depending on marketing objectives, calf quality, grazing that may or may not be available, cost of winter pasture versus calf feed, etc.
Sale date, weights and prices are second only to changes in winter-feed costs and require careful analysis.
Range management. A change of calving season presents range management challenges and opportunities. If you move toward more winter grazing, it's easier to remove less feed during the growing season and create more options for the management of time and timing of grazings and recovery.
Summer calving in rotational grazing or on public land permits present unique problems that need solutions beforehand.
People benefits and problems. Can you and your co-workers get excited about this? People who are convinced they made a right choice have been very careful in their decision-making. The outcomes of the decision match their lifestyle desires, values and profit objectives.
“There are still lots of unanswered questions regarding weight per day of age at various market endpoints and cow rebreeding rates for different calving dates,” Teichert says. “But if a producer will carefully consider the above-listed factors, they'll make a reasonably good decision.”