Vet’s Voice by Dave Barz: The cost of fooling Mother Nature
Soon the last of the breeding bulls will be turned out. Some of my clients are ready to pregnancy check their AI females while others are still semen checking bulls. The cow-calf industry sure has a lot of diversity in our area. At least that keeps me relatively busy all year round.
For the past several decades my clients have been moving their calving dates earlier and earlier. I would have to agree if you have some shelter it is easier to calve on frozen ground with bedding than in the mud. When we think of wild ruminants they usually give birth on grass with 50-60 degree temperatures. This requires a lot less management than the cold nights of checking in the inclement weather. I have some clients running 1,000 head of mama cows which calve in May/June. They aren’t as worried about checking every few hours or the continual feeding. They feed once a day or every other day and usually have the help of just one other person. What requires the most time is traveling from one group to another. Many have a mid-June roundup where they castrate and vaccinate the calves, preparing them for the market. The work is all done until they roundup for sale in the fall.
Cows calving on grass (without drought conditions) are usually milking and cycling during peak forage production. If the genetics are similar, we have herds which calve in May producing calves nearly as large as the calves born in April. If you are selling breeding stock and need maturity or are finishing your own calves, it may be important for you to calve early; if not later calving may work well for you. The primary reason most of the producers in our area calve early is to avoid the time competition with the field work. This has little to do with the cows and calves and what is best for them nutritionally and management wise.
In most areas of South Dakota, more and more grass and pasture is being turned in to farmland. This requires more harvested forages and feed stuffs. This is expensive and also takes time. The best and most economical procedure is to allow the cow to harvest and process the forage themselves. Timing of important “life events” in the cow’s life (nursing and breeding) with times of optimum forage production are very important. When we background our breeding heifers and cows in the feedlot we increase their mature weight by at least 100 pounds – this means a larger cow and, of course, more feed for maintenance in the winter. Also if you are calving early these cows need more winter feed to be in proper body condition at calving.
Early weaning is also important for late-spring calvers. The cows will be able to gain some weight in the early fall from the remaining pasture grass if she no longer has to support a suckling calf. This will also help to support her pregnancy and carry her into winter in an adequate body condition score. You can then background the calves after preconditioning or market them. Now the market for a 300 pound calf is about $750 or $2.50 per pound. These calves also gain well on creep or mixed rations if you prefer to capture more value.
I remember the old commercial, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.” Whenever we attempt to alter or change the natural ways of the range and cow-calf raising, it requires additional management, financial and time investment. In the past, we have separated producers as low-cost, average and high-cost producers. For the last few years all of these scenarios were profitable but soon they may not be. Examine your planning and execution and management tactics with your veterinarian, extension specialist, or nutritionist. Make sure added expenses bring you increased returns in your herd. This will allow you to remain profitable in the future.