On numerous occasions the topic of calving in the fall versus calving in the spring has come up as a topic of discussion among cattlemen. There are advantages and disadvantages associated with each of them and as with most management decisions it becomes a matter of which fits your production scenario the best.
Fall calving. Most cattlemen who utilize a fall calving season calve during the months of September through November. Ideally, the system would allow for the first calf heifers to calve in early September and then be followed by the mature cows that would finish calving by the end of November. The two main disadvantages of this system are that during calving season an adequate supply of good quality forage (pasture) is not available. Warm season forages have dramatically declined in quality by this time and cool season forages have not yet produced appreciable growth by this time of the year. The second factor that makes fall calving unattractive for some producers is the fact that you will need to feed a lactating cow a lot more feed during the winter than you will a pregnant, non lactating cow.
The advantages of a fall calving season include the following: 1) The weather is generally mild during this time period. Most of the baby calves will be born during times of warm days and cool nights and relatively dry conditions. This type of weather is good for calf survivability and health. 2) In the spring when forages are abundant and the quality of those forages is excellent the calf has gotten old enough to spend an appreciable amount of time grazing and will have excellent weight gains as a consequence. This leads to heavier weaning weights of the calves compared to springborn calves of the same age. 3) It is quite common for a fall born calf to be sold as a weaned feeder calf in August of the following year. Historically, calf prices tend to be relatively good during that time of the year.
Spring calving. The months that comprise a spring calving season are somewhat variable but for many it would start with the heifers calving in February and then followed by the cows for the next two months, March and April. The disadvantages of this system include the following: 1) The weather is generally more erratic during this time period leading to slightly more baby calf health problems. 2) Breeding season would be in late April for the heifers and from late May through late July for the mature cows. In general, conception rates tend to be lower during extremely hot weather which would be the case during July in Alabama. 3) Calves tend to have lower weaning weights when they are weaned in the fall because forage quality and quantity are usually limiting during September and October. 4) Weaning and selling the spring born calf in October coincides with the historically low calf price of the year. Most calves in the U.S. are spring born, thus there are extremely large numbers of weaned calves being marketed during the fall of the year. A large supply equals a decreased demand which equates to lower prices.
The main advantage of calving in the spring is that it allows the cow herd to get the vast majority of their nutrients from grazing forages and results in minimal feeding of both hay and supplement. It does not require a lot of high quality feed to winter a dry cow and when her nutrient demands peak (60 days after the calf is born) she has abundant amounts of lush, spring forage available.
Take home message. Calving during the spring or fall can have both advantages and disadvantages. Like most management decisions it becomes a matter of what works best in your situation. The primary advantage of calving in the spring is that it requires considerably less supplemental feeding for the cow herd. The primary advantage of calving in the fall is that you are able to market heavier calves at a time when market prices tend to be a little higher. Either fall or spring calving is much better than year round calving.