Switching from spring to fall calving
Cattle traditionally deliver their young in the springtime, but traditions can change. Calving in the fall is an option that's gaining momentum because many producers with small herds find that a shorter breeding season is more efficient. University of Missouri livestock specialist David Hoffman says there are several advantages to calving in the fall.
"It's more ideal weather at calving time, and traditionally calf prices are higher in the spring when those calves are marketed at weaning," Hoffman says. "There's less calving difficulty, less labor at times, so it would just boil down to being a decision based on the personal choices of that producer."
Managing the cash flow and timing are the most difficult aspects of switching the calving season. The most dramatic way of doing it is to delay turning the bull out with the cows for 5 or 6 months. However, it's also quite expensive to feed the cows for that length of down time before they reproduce. Hoffman says a more popular option is to switch the herd over gradually. How long the process takes depends on how you work your program.
"Divide the herd up into half, thirds, or quarters," says Hoffman. "Breed some for spring calving and some for fall. Gradually work that way over a two- or three-year process. Another option would be to buy replacements that are fall calving cows or heifers."
At weaning, Hoffman says fall calves are typically going to be lighter than spring-born calves because the cows are nursing them through the winter months. Pastures aren't at their peak, so the forage quality is lower and you'll have to provide for the extra protein and energy needed. But once the lush grasses return in the spring and early summer, you'll have a calf ready to graze and pack on the weight.
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