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Ruth Correll: Reasons for defined calving season

dfox • Updated Nov 18, 2015 at 9:08 AM

The term “defined” or “controlled” calving season simply means managing the cow herd to calve within a relatively short period of time, usually 90 days or less. Really, the shorter the better. Herd management is much easier to perform if calves in the herd are approximately the same age and the cows are in the same production cycle at the same time.

Compare row crop production to calf production. When planting row crops, a producer does not plant one pass with the planter one week, another pass a week later until the field is completely planted. The entire field is planted at the same time and managed as a single unit throughout the growing season, including fertilizing, applying insecticide and herbicide, and harvesting. Calving year-round is comparable to staggering the planting of a field over the entire growing season. If cows are at different places in their production cycle, and calves are newborn to weaning age, many of the management practices cannot be performed for all the cattle at the same time.

Herd nutritional management makes an important case for a defined calving season. Providing the proper nutrition to a dry cow that is in the same pasture with a cow nursing a 2-month-old calf is practically impossible. Either the dry cow will get more nutrition than she needs or the cow in peak lactation will get less nutrition than she needs and will lose body condition. In other words, supplementing lactating cows in the same pasture with dry cows wastes feed and money.

Another management practice that is difficult to apply to year-round calving herds is a proper vaccination protocol. Imagine having 7-month-old calves in the same pasture with 3-month-old calves and newborn calves. They will not all be ready for the same vaccinations at any one point in time. Gathering just a few calves at a time when they reach the appropriate age for a given vaccination is inefficient and is rarely maintained diligently. Thus, the health of the cows and calves suffer in year-round calving herds.

Marketing opportunities can be improved by having a more uniform group of calves. Research proves that having calves of similar ages, size, weight, color and breed type, can also provide more marketing opportunities. Many years of market data from across the country show that marketing groups of uniform calves together, as opposed to one at a time, results in a higher average price per pound. Buyers are able to pay more for uniform groups, even as small as five head, because of the time and labor they spend on assembling truck load lots. Essentially, buyers pay sellers for making their job more efficient.

Also, consider the opportunity to concentrate the time spent on calving management. If all the cows calve within a defined period of time, it is easier to watch them diligently, assist when needed, and reduce loss from death. In other words, labor can be scheduled for the calving season, whereas year-round calving leads to producers missing calving difficulties. This issue can result in thousands of dollars lost if a cow and calf die calving while the producer is out of town or calves arrive at random times.

With these advantages, it seems logical that most cattle producers would have a defined calving season, but a USDA source for cattle production statistics reports that less than half of the small herds across the country had a defined calving season in 2008. If it makes sense to have easier herd management and to have advantages when marketing then a defined calving season is something to consider. Please let me know if you would like help with establishing a defined calving season rather than year-round calving.

Agricultural Market Summary

Cattle Market Trends

Volatility is the word of the day, the week, and the past couple of months. The market volatility is likely to persist into late winter until more is known on cattle inventory, beef production, and the all-encompassing export market. There are some signs of consumer beef price fatigue. Feeder steers, $15 to $20 lower, $120-$247.50;  Feeder heifers, $12 to $20 lower, $114-$205; Slaughter cows, $1 to $4 lower; $60-$83; Slaughter bulls, unevenly steady, $85-$117.

Grain Market Trends

Corn, soybeans and wheat were down for the week. Corn – Cash price $3.49-$3.95 December futures closed at $3.58 a bushel, down 15 cents. Soybeans - Cash price $8.41-$9.01. January futures closed at $8.55 a bushel, down 12 cents.  Wheat – No cash price reported. December futures closed at $4.95 a bushel, down 28 cents.

TN Sheep & Goat   Market Report

Goats: Slaughter kids, $184-$234; Yearlings, $151-$180; Slaughter bucks, $106-$146.50; Slaughter nannies, $120-$156; Feeder kids, $138-$192.  Sheep: Slaughter lambs, $132-$206; Slaughter ewes, $80-$104; Slaughter rams, $88-$92.

For additional information on these and other topics, contact the UT Extension Office, 925 East Baddour Parkway, Lebanon, TN 37087, 615-444-9584 or acorrell@utk.edu.  UT Extension provides equal opportunities in all programs.  Visit the UT/TSU Extension webpage at utextension.tennessee.edu/wilson or look for UT & TSU Extension, Wilson County on Facebook.

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