Choosing the calving season is a complex and highly-individual decision for each beef cattle producer. This leads to a wide range of calving seasons across the Northern Plains. This became evident recently as we attempted to schedule Extension meetings with 30 producers from across South Dakota. We wanted to have a meeting in February before calving started and another after calving in May. It turned out we could do neither because some participants are already calving in late January and some won't start calving until the beginning of May.


A primary consideration in pasture-based cow-calf operations is choosing a calving season to match forage supply to forage demand. In general, forage production and quality is high in the spring with the peak occurring in early summer, and then supply and quality decline through the remainder of the year as forage matures. The question becomes: Do we match this peak in nutrient supply to the peak in demand by the cows or by the calves?


Matching nutrient supply from forage with nutrient requirements of the calf points to late-winter to early-spring calving. This is because calves that are older and more functional ruminants will be more capable than younger calves at using grazed forage at its peak nutrient quality in early summer. The intent is that calves will be older and heavier at weaning. However, there are disadvantages as well.


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