Don’t rush to decisions on moving calving date
June 3, 2013
It's ironic that my previous column for the Tri-State Livestock News (TSLN) dealt with drought preparation. In most parts of the area covered by TSLN, we have had substantial snowfall and cold temperatures throughout all of the month of April. While the moisture received is definitely welcome, it has certainly not been ideal weather for calving.
Some may be thinking that they want to turn the bulls in later and avoid this type of April weather in the future. The easy decision is to just keep the bulls in a few weeks longer. This appears straightforward on the surface, but the decision should be well thought out, planned for in advance, and discussed and vetted with your trusted business advisors prior to keeping the bulls in a few more weeks. Without proper planning and good management, the decision to move your calving date back a few weeks, could result in more headaches, not less.
Changing a calving date is not something that should be taken lightly or be done without a thorough analysis of your operation. A change in calving date affects all aspects of your ranching operation. Here are a few things to consider relative to changing calving date.
Feed inputs are the largest single cost category on any ranching operation. Earlier calving dates will require additional feed resources during the winter in order to meet the needs of late gestation and early lactation cows. The impact on feed resources should be considered as one considers calving date selection. One thought process may be to evaluate when your primary forage resource is at peak nutrient quality and calve to match that date as closely as possible. However, this is not the only selection criteria which should be considered.
Supplementation programs and timing of supplementation will also change with altered calving seasons. For later calving dates this may mean less need for supplemental protein as nutrient needs are lower throughout much of the winter. Research conducted at the Gudmundsen Sandhills Laboratory at the University of Nebraska clearly indicates reduced reliance on harvested forage and supplements for summer calving compared to spring calving cow herds.
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Earlier calving dates require more labor resources to care for newborn calves and their dams. Earlier calving works well for some operations who integrate grain and farming operations with ranching since the labor needs for the two enterprises complement each other. Labor requirements in most farming operations are highest during times when labor in a late winter or early spring-calving cow herd are relatively low. However, in a ranching operation where there is very little or no farming activity, labor is usually limiting and in a lot of cases, hard to come by. In those situations, choosing a later calving date makes sense.
Earlier calving dates require increased investment in facilities. This was clearly evident this year as the late season snow and cold clearly increased the need for facilities where newborn calves could be protected from the elements. Many operations simply did not have adequate facilities for the number of cattle in need. In these cases, later calving dates or an evaluation of your facility needs is something that should be considered.
Changing calving date may force you to change calf marketing plans or develop a different customer base for your cattle. Later calving dates mean calves will be lighter at the same date in the fall and in many cases they will be lighter even at the same age. Remember that spring-born calves are consuming a considerable amount of forage by the time they are weaned in October. Later born calves will likely not benefit from the same quality of forage as earlier born calves when your forage resources go dormant in the fall. This means lighter calves at the same age and likely necessitates altered marketing plans. This might mean backgrounding calves or running them as yearlings the following summer depending on how much the calving date is altered. Depending on how late you move your calving date, seasonal price swings for feeder calves may actually work in your favor resulting in seasonally higher prices for the same weight animal at later dates in the marketing year.
Cash flow considerations
Changing calving date clearly impacts cash flow, especially if you are moving from a winter to spring or spring to summer calving program or moving to marketing backgrounded or yearling cattle rather than six- to seven-month-old calves. In these cases, you may be delaying income by as much as six months to a year. These types of changes should be discussed with your lender beforehand. In most cases, lenders will be supportive if you have a good plan and sound reasoning why the change is needed and why it should improve profitability.
The importance of a thorough examination of your calving date following this spring's tough weather shouldn't be overlooked. However, the easy management decision is keeping the bulls in and not turning them out when you normally do. The hard part is thinking through all the implications that calving date has on your operation. Remember that each ranch has a unique set of resources and what works for your neighbor may not necessarily work for you.
There is no doubt that in the aftermath of these storms, you are probably wondering about your own calving season. Before you make sweeping changes, be sure you carefully consider a holistic look at your ranching operation. Good luck with the remainder of your calving season and lets pray for good weather through what's left of spring.