Fall Calving

Beef Production


Fall Calving

Aug 8, 2017 | 21:37 1 GF, Your fall Luing letter was interesting, particularly the part about fall calving. Wondering if you would mind posting that here for some discussion.

Thx Reply With Quote
Aug 9, 2017 | 11:35 2 "Have you considered Fall calving?

The prevailing cattle production system in western Canada is very much spring calving with most calves being sold at weaning in October or November. In this article I want to highlight some advantages of fall calving based on our experiences of the practice over many years, albeit with limited numbers up until now.

Perhaps the most obvious advantage is minimizing weather related issues at calving time. August and September are unlikely to contain many blizzard days and frozen ears shouldn’t be an issue! The hottest days of summer and the worst of the fly/bug nuisance also tend to be behind us. Another advantage of fall calving which is particularly important where I live now is that we can avoid breeding in July/August, the hottest months of the year.

There is much talk about calving in tune with nature, by implication in June, at the same time as the local deer population. With their shorter gestation period however the deer come into heat in early November as opposed to the height of summer. So when we talk about being in sync with nature with our cows we get the choice of being in sync with the breeding season or the fawning season of deer, not both.

The declining photoperiod in November triggers the does to come into heat and as we have always had excellent conception in our fall calving herd I suspect it works on cows too. Very seldom do we have a fall calving cow that doesn’t calve in the first cycle. Contributing to this rapid breed back is the fact that the cow is typically in very good body condition. We use the easy fleshing characteristics of our breed to ensure the cow goes into winter carrying a lot of her winter feed requirements on her back. We find this fairly easy as the cows gain so much condition on summer grass.

It may seem counter intuitive but I find maintaining a lactating, fall calving cow over winter in this climate does not require better feed than a spring calving cow. The fact that the cow’s nutritional needs drop over winter rather than increase like a spring calving cows do further reduce the need for quality feed. We typically start feeding the fall herd around November 1st and turn the bull in a week later. I find that green-feed or lower quality hay keep the cows in good enough, but slowly declining, condition over winter. The Luing’s winter hair coat allows them to handle the cold weather and retain condition better than most. As winter goes on creep feeding the calves 2 or 3lbs of pellets is more efficient than feeding the cow extra to get her to milk more. This results in a well grown calf and leanish cow by the time the grass greens up.

Other advantages of fall calving are that calf scours are not usually an issue due to less protein in the grass You also completely avoid the weaning stresses, pneumonia and shipping fever usually associated with late fall/early winter weaning. The fall cows typically wean themselves naturally in June which results in zero health problems and no growth setback in the calves.
Fall calving also opens up some alternate marketing opportunities as you can either wean calves early to hit the demand for lightweight calves to go to grass in May or you can sell into the yearling market in August/September. Both of these markets are typically stronger than November when the annual glut of cattle overwhelms the market and depresses prices.

In my own situation an additional benefit of fall calving is that it allows me to run larger cow groups in summer. Our breeding program requires that I run the spring calving herd in single sire breeding groups but if I can add a group of fall calving cows to each breeding pasture it reduces the number of breeding pastures I need to run. Having less, but larger, groups simplifies and improves our grazing management. Running both fall and spring herds also allows for a reduction in the herd bull battery.

Dr Bob Church of Lochend Luing Ranch for many years ran both a fall and spring herd and he would breed his spring born heifers to join the fall herd and visa versa. By giving the heifers this extra 6 months before calving he was able to run his heifers with his cow herd with no extra feed or separate attention. We are in the process of expanding our fall herd and look forward to experimenting with this concept of Bob’s. If we can make it work in our environment I think the cost savings will be considerable compared to babying bred heifers as a separate group and suffering reduced breed back if you didn’t feed them well enough through the important growth stages.

I should add a disclaimer that if a rancher has heavier milking, leaner type cows or his pastures are typically like a bowling green by the end of July then fall calving may not work well for him. I think in general though calving in the fall has a lot to offer and I’m surprised that more people don’t try it." Reply With Quote
Aug 12, 2017 | 13:31 3
why wasting all that nice young spring grass on fall calving ?
it is a complete different ranching practice.
when are you selling you calves? never find any more benefit from this practice.
but like to hear more about this Reply With Quote
Aug 12, 2017 | 21:21 4 ag-boy,
How is it wasting grass if you are putting condition on a cow (part of her next winter's feed supply on her back) and also growing her calf? I would say a fall born calf is better able to benefit from young spring grass than a spring born one. It's age to utilize the grass which the spring born calf isn't.

We don't generally sell calves - we keep replacements, sell yearlings and breeding stock and fatten some. Fall calving gives you 2 options - sell a flyweight calf in May if the grass market is hot or sell a yearling Aug/Sept. Both these options are typically higher priced markets than Oct/Nov when the market is flooded.

Thanks for replying though it seems everyone else has lot their tongues around here lol. Reply With Quote
Aug 14, 2017 | 01:34 5 don't visit site too often....no reason to visit the commodity side of things, and seems not too much happening on this site.
Into semi retirement, but too damn stubborn to give up cattle....so my program with late April/May calving seems easiest for me.....during winter when I want to get away, it is easy to have someone feed herd once a week or move an electric fence once a week...at this point, easiest and meets our needs.
Thinking of leaving replacement heifers on cows in winter grazing fields...even less work and have heard rumors about being better for the replacemnts.....at this point, easiest is the dictating buzz word. Reply With Quote