Do You Have a Defined Breeding Season?
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Of all the management practices that are discussed to improve the economic success of cow/calf production, having a defined calving season is the most important. In fact, it is better to think of it as a gateway or tool that must be implemented to allow other management practices to be used. Most of the other practices cannot be easily done if calves are not similar in age and cows are not at the same place in their production cycle. Let’s look at a few examples of that and then consider the improved marketing potential of a uniform calf crop.
One good example of a management practice that is difficult to apply correctly for year-round calving herds is a good vaccination protocol. Imagine having 7-month-old calves in the same pasture with 3-month-old calves and newborn calves. These calves are not all ready to be given the same vaccinations at any one point in time. Gathering just a few calves at a time when they reach the appropriate age for a given vaccination is inefficient and is rarely maintained diligently. So, the health of the cows and calves suffer in year-round calving herds.
Similarly, consider nutritional management. Providing the right nutrition (not too much and not too little) to a dry cow that is in the same pasture with a cow nursing a 2-month-old calf is impossible. Either the dry cow is getting more nutrition than it needs – stocking rate could be increased, could be on lower quality hay/pasture – or the cow in peak lactation is getting less nutrition than she needs and will lose body condition. To say it another way, supplementing lactating cows in the same pasture with dry cows (that do not need extra nutrition) wastes feed/money.
Improving calf crop uniformity (ages, size, weight, color and breed type) can also provide more marketing opportunities. Many years of market data from across the country shows that marketing groups of uniform calves together, as opposed to one-at-a-time, results in a higher average price per pound. Buyers are able to pay more for uniform groups (even as small as five head) because it reduces the time and labor they spend on assembling truck-load lots. Essentially, they are paying the seller for making their job more efficient.
In Summary, transitioning to a controlled breeding season from a continuous breeding season will take discipline and good management. Maintaining accurate goals for where your operation is coming from and where you want your operation to be in 5 years will be very important. Determining the time for the breeding season is very critical and extensive planning will ensure the proper timing for individual operations. It becomes very difficult to switch breeding season around once the transition has been accomplished. Having a controlled breeding season will increase operation efficiency, decrease nutritional needs, decrease labor needs, and when combined with other best management practices increase profit.
John Cothren, Livestock Agent, Wilkes County