SUCCESSFUL CALVING SEASON DEPENDS ON FORWARD THINKING

by: Clifford Mitchell

Calving season is the beginning of a long process that gets most operators paid for the work done throughout the year. A high percentage of live calves, especially in this market, should pay dividends to diligent ranchers. Planning for the next calf crop often begins at conception and skilled operators will take a systematic approach to getting cows ready for calving season.

The months leading up to calving season will help producer's time management strategies for best results down the line. Keeping cattle calving in a 365 day interval is really important to the success of the operation.

“It is our goal for each cow to have a calf every 365 days. We have a lot of numbers and we like to group cows together that will calve in a 90 day season and move them to a smaller trap, depending on forage availability,” says Kent Smith, General Manager, Santa Rosa Ranch, Crockett, Texas.

“A controlled breeding season and keeping cows calving every 365 days is important. This allows for proper evaluation of body condition score (BCS) and helps producers know when to adjust nutrition to get cattle ready to calve and rebreed,” says Dr. Matt Burns, Extension Beef Specialist, Clemson University.

Maintaining sound reproductive management starts with calving cows in the proper BCS. This will help improve the number of live calves and give cows a head start into the breeding season.

“Tracking BCS prior to calving will help producers adjust the nutrition program depending on forage availability. Maintaining cows in a BCS of 5.5 to 6 prior to calving will jump start estrus. Once these cows calve, nutritional requirements change and cows need to be on an inclining plane of nutrition to breed back,” Burns says. “If BCS drops below 5, essentially, you begin to sacrifice pregnancy rate. Cows in lower BCS won't cycle as quickly post partum. Reproduction is low on the priority list if a cow is in nutritionally challenged environment. It is a lot easier to evaluate BCS and change it before calving. It is financially impossible to improve BCS once she gets a calf at her side.”

“We like to calve cows at a BCS 6, especially those cows we plan to synchronize and time breed. This allows us to have a large percentage of those calves during the first week of calving season,” Smith says. “After those cows calve, nutrition has to be there to get those cows bred back. We adjust nutrition according to forage availability in our rotational grazing system.”

Using advanced reproductive technology is an excellent way to maintain calving interval and will provide other benefits. Due diligence in the herd bull battery is also a must in preparation for a successful breeding season.

“We would like to synchronize more cows, because this allows us to put a little more selection pressure on fertility. This trait may be more heritable than we think because the cows that breed AI every year have daughters and granddaughters that are always at the front of the calving season,” Smith says. “We can't afford not to fertility and trich test our bulls in this market. Synchronization also allows us to better allocate our resources during calving season because a high percentage of cows calve at one time.”

“A defined calving season helps us plan management and adds to proper timing of vaccinations. When we synchronize cows, we get a lot of calves at one time which helps plan to hire additional labor, if needed, during calving season,” Burns says. “Genetic improvement and a more uniform set of calves with heavier pay weights are also benefits of a synchronization program.”

Herd health also plays a role in having healthy calves and setting the tone for success. Positioning the cow herd to be healthy and in proper BCS is a good way to promote live calves and a successful breeding season. Evaluating the cow herd at calving could also be the first step in removing problem cattle.

“Nutrition and herd health are the building blocks that provide a solid foundation for those cows to have a live calf and breed back,” Burns says. “Know your forage resources and have a plan; hay, utilizing winter annuals or calving on dormant bermuda. If you calve those cows in good shape because the nutrition program was adjusted to meet their needs, more than likely, you will have a successful breeding season.”

“We vaccinate cows 45 days post calving and give a scour guard two weeks prior to calving,” Smith says. “It is a continuous process, evaluate those calves for vigor; make sure they are getting up to nurse. Udder score cows when calves are born and make sure those cows with poor udder quality get removed from the herd.”

Planning where to calve cows could help eliminate health problems and keep cattle grazing good forages as nutritional requirements change. Depending on the year, this could prove to be a difficult step in the management process.

“As we rotate pastures, we try to allocate a fresh pasture for each group of calving cows. Lack of moisture can make this challenging at times. Forage availability will dictate how cows go through the pastures and we try to allow a little more acreage to calve those cows,” Smith says. “If we can move cows to fresh pastures with good forage three weeks to 30 days prior to calving, the health on the calves is a lot better. There is less naval ill, scours and pneumonia. Health is really good on good pasture. If pastures are stressed when we calve, there are more health problems.”

“It has a positive impact from a health standpoint if we can calve on fresh pasture,” Burns says. “If the forage quality is good enough, then those cows really benefit from grazing that clean pasture and it will help lactation.”

Grouping cattle correctly will help allocate feed resources and match nutritional needs. Certain age groups need special attention. As the market continues to remain strong, the opportunity cost to retain those females and add them to the herd continues to increase. Getting a high percentage of the young females rebred has always been important, but changes in the market place even more pressure on management.

“A lot of operation's struggle to get two-and three-year olds to breed back. Reserve the better pasture and allocate more resources to these females. Some operations don't like to pamper these cattle, but she is at a point where it's justified because during this time period it's the most you will ask of her in her lifetime,” Burns says. “Development and replacement costs are astronomical. These young females need to stay in the herd long enough to pay you back.”

“Knowing your cows and your genetics will allow you to properly feed those young cows. Those first and second calf heifers are a little more important to take care of because they add a genetic component to the cow herd,” Smith says. “When they get to be four year olds, they will start to maintain themselves a little better.”

Setting the stage in the beef business is really important. Depending on the operation, calving the cows could be a small piece of the puzzle. Knowing when cows are going to calve will allow producers to better embrace this time of year to blend the different factors of management together into one well oiled production machine. Working to take care of the intricacies; like forage availability, BCS, health and adjusting nutrition will make calving season lead to successful rebreed and healthy calves.

“A controlled breeding season allows us to better allocate our resources,” Burns says. “Nutritional requirements are vastly different for cows in different stages of production. Without a defined calving season we are going to constantly be overfeeding or underfeeding part of the cow herd.”

“Quality cattle, health and nutrition go hand-in-hand,” Smith says. “Calving well vaccinated cows in the proper condition leads to healthy calves.”







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