Calving Season – What works for your operation?

Everyone has a different calving season. Some have none at all. Some folks begin Spring calving in January, others wait until March or even May. Then you have Fall calving season that can begin in September or October. With so much difference, what’s the right answer for everyone? There isn’t one! And if someone tells you they know the calving season everyone should have, feel free to call B.S.

I  grew up on an operation when calving season for 1,200 head of cows ran February 15 to ~April 15th or May 1. By the time we got to the end of April, many of those cows would end up culling themselves as later breeders or open cows. I’ve turned out bulls in early January for Fall calving (for those of you still counting on your fingers, cows have a ~9 month gestation on average, similar to humans). I’ve also worked on operations where it was important that calves be old enough to trail out to mountain grazing pastures by the time forages were growing enough on BLM and USFS allotments.

Managing the breeding season of your cow herd, whether you have 12 or 1,200, is an important part to being able to manage the nutritional needs for your cowherd, managing those feed costs (which can be the majority of annual cow cost), and being able to market your calves or manage the replacements you retain. As simple of a choice as some may want it to be, there is no one-size-fits-all in this situation and I’ve seen a few individuals who wish to be opponents of the “status quo”, be pretty aggressive in their preaching and downcast those who dare to disagree with their opinions.

However, I can tell you that “Because we’ve always done it this way” is not a very well thought out response. Not saying that your current management is wrong, but it does deserve a little more consideration than that.

So what is the right calving season for you?

Where I grew up in Arkansas, it was important to have calves early enough so that cows could be rebred before summer heat and humidity took a huge toll on fertility and successful pregnancy rates. This meant having calves in February and having to deal with a handful of winter weather events during early calving. In Montana, many ranchers need their calves old enough to trail out to summer pastures due to a limited window for grazing season. These producers may also have to consider that grazing areas are far from facilities or access to roads should cows need assistance with calving. Then there are predators like cats, wolves, or bears to consider. You have farmers who have livestock along with crops and often these folks need to wrap up calving season before spring planting. Or you might have folks in areas/situations where weather and forage supply make every bit of sense to wait until May for calving. The point is, every situation is different.

So what are the factors to consider when planning a window for your calving season? Not in any particular order:

  • When is forage available to feed cows at the maximal nutrient requirement period (post calving to peak lactation)?
  • How does the environment influence accessibility of cow herd during calving when/if assistance is needed? How can that be managed?
  • How does calving window influence labor/facility costs?
  • Does weather/nutrient supply influence fertility and ability to have a successful breeding season?
  • When does the calf crop need to be marketed? (Is there an ability to retain and stocker calves to manage this marketing window despite calving season?)

These are just the start of several questions that can be asked when considering the calving season suitable for your operation. What addition questions can you add to this list? What calving season is right for your situation?

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