By Aaron Berger
The severe weather of this last winter and spring has prompted many cow-calf producers to evaluate the potential of moving their calving date to a different time of year. The following are a list of ten things producers may want to think through as they evaluate moving of a calving date.
1. How would the proposed move match cow nutrient requirements with the quantity and quality of available feed resources? Grazed feed is most often less expensive than harvested feed to get into the belly of a cow. Moving time of calving to a time of year that allows for greater use of grazed versus harvested feed can be an advantage economically for feeding the cow herd. The type of cow you have in one season of calving may not fit another season, due to forage quality and nutrient requirements. Moving calving date may decrease supplementation/feeding at certain physiological states, but at the same time increase resource needs at other periods of the year.
2. How would the move impact the quality of feed that is grazed or fed specifically in the window of time from calving through breeding? Cow-calf producers considering a move to calving in later spring, which will result in cows breeding on pasture or range in late summer, will want to evaluate the potential impact of this change on reproduction. Forage quality on pasture and range tends to peak in late May and June and then decline from July on into the fall. Nutrient requirements are the highest at peak lactation, which occurs on average right before the start of breeding. The change in forage quality with higher nutrient requirements can impact reproduction. First-calf heifers and young cows that are still growing may be challenged nutritionally to have adequate protein and energy to achieve acceptable pregnancy rates when on a decreasing plane of nutrition in the period prior to and through the breeding season. Strategic supplementation may be needed right prior to and through the breeding season to help meet nutrient needs and achieve acceptable pregnancy rates especially in higher risk females.
3. What is the expected impact of the change in timing of calving to when weaning occurs and calf weaning weight? Changing calving dates will likely change the time of year when calves are weaned and weaning weights. Nutritional needs of weaned calves and how they are managed after weaning may need to be adjusted significantly based on the age of calf at weaning and available feed resources.
4. How will the move impact marketing of calves and market timing? Changing time of calving may signicantly impact the value and weight of calves at weaning based on market seasonality and demands. Examine the expected value of weaned calves in the proposed production system as compared to the one that is currently in place. Will the proposed change in calving result in a calf that would better fit a wintering program and then being marketed as yearling? Changing time of calving may also impact when non-pregnant animals are sold. Historically cull cow markets tend to hit annual lows in the fall of the year and then increase from the fall on into the spring.
5. What will be the impact of a change in calving to selection and development of replacement heifers? The genetics that performed acceptably under an early spring calving season with harvested feed may not perform reproductively the same in a later calving season. A change in genetics may be needed to have cows that are adapted to a more limited input production system that can successfully breed in late summer on pasture that is declining in quality. Evaluate if the genetic change should occur through selection internally or by selling the existing herd and purchasing of genetics more adapted to the calving season that is being considered.
For cow-calf producers raising their own replacement heifers, later spring calving may provide the opportunity for heifers to be developed on lower-quality forages such as crop residue or native range through the winter with minimal supplement. These heifers can then be nutritionally “flushed” on higher quality pasture in the spring prior to breeding. This method of development can reduce replacement heifer development feed costs as compared to systems which utilize significant amounts of harvested feed.
6. How would the change in calving date impact the need for labor and equipment? According to the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service the average age of farmers and ranchers is 57.5 years of age. An increase of 1.2 years from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Labor and equipment needs can vary significantly based on the season of the year when calving occurs.
7. What will changing calving date do to cowherd value? In Nebraska there tends to be differences in value for bred cows of the same age and quality based on the time of year in which they calve. If a person has a group of cows that are in a more highly desired calving season, moving these cows to a different time of year may reduce their market value.
8. What opportunities would a change in calving season provide to collaborate with other producers? A majority of “spring” calving cows in Nebraska calve in the February through April time period. Calving at a time outside of this window may allow for the opportunity to source later calving females from other herds that could be used in a terminal sire system and simplify the operation. Sharing of bulls with a trusted producer who calves in a different time of year than you do could also be a way to reduce breeding expense.
9. How will a change in calving impact logistics for the overall operation? For diversified crop and livestock operations, changing calving date to a time of year when farming enterprises require focused time may present challenges to getting work done. Also for many cow-calf operations, summer pasture is rented and is at times a significant distance from where calving occurs. Moving very young calves to pasture a significant distance from where cows calved can present management challenges as compared to moving older calves.
10. Who do you know that has made the move you are considering? Visiting with someone who “has been there and done that” can bring perspective and help identify issues or challenges that haven’t been considered. It may also provide insights into how those challenges can be overcome.
Changing calving date is a significant choice that can have ripple effects for the entire operation. It is important to utilize a systems approach to decision making in evaluating the potential impacts of a change to calving date. There is no “perfect” time of year to calve in Nebraska. Thoroughly understanding the potential positives and negatives of making a change is important when making the decision. Numerous long-term research studies by the University of Nebraska have compared different calving dates and production systems. For more information on how different calving times and systems compare, please visit beef.unl.edu. The articles and Beef Cattle Reports provide research that can be helpful in evaluating calving season options.