About one-quarter of the cows in this part of the country calve in the fall, and Tom Troxel told Ozarks Farm & Neighbor there are pluses and minuses to having a fall calving season.
“If a producer has a lot of endophyte-infected tall fescue,” said the animal science section leader for the University of Arkansas Extension, “we have found that the reproductive rates were higher when breeding cows for a fall calving herd, versus breeding cows for a spring calving herd. When you breed cows to calves in the spring, that means the breeding season falls in the hot May-June-July period, during which the endophyte really affects the cow performance.”
There’s another potential advantage in marketing. “If you look at the seasonal selling of calves,” Troxel said, “it’s very typical to see the prices highest in the spring of the year and lowest in the fall, and that just goes back to supply and demand,” since the bulk of the calves are born in the spring and go to market a few months later. But at the same time, he said, “you have to take into consideration the additional cost it may take to supplement a lactating cow through the wintertime in that program.”
Regardless of when the cows calves, Troxel said it’s extremely important that they be in good body condition. “On a scale of one to nine, where one is thin and nine is obese,” he said, “you like to see a cow be in a body condition score of six when she calves. This does a couple of things; it helps her reestablish her estrus cycle after calving sooner, and also cows that calve in good body condition produce more colostrum and more concentrated colostrum, which supports the health of the calves.”
Tremendous rains in the region this year have produced optimum grass growth, leaving cows in excellent body condition. But Troxel said, “if you were to calve in the fall in a more typical summer, coming through a hot August oftentimes pasture conditions decline, nutrient quality declines, and so paying attention to body condition for a fall calving herd is pretty important.” That may also necessitate booking feed supplies for the winter, and Troxel noted, “If you’re able to contract your feed prices early and if you anticipate those feed prices will increase as they go through the winter time, then locking in prices is a good risk management move.”
Another thing to watch for during a fall calving season is animal health needs. For producers who have had scours problems, Troxel recommended vaccinating the cows, which will then pass on the immunity to their calves. In the event a calf will have to be pulled, keep on hand obstetrical chains, a disinfectant for dipping the navel and a natural lubricant. “Don’t use things like soap,” he said, “but use a commercial lubricant for obstetrical use. And it’s sure important to have the number of your veterinarian handy.”
And make the rounds of your facilities. You want to be able to have that facility clean if you have to bring in a cow to pull the calf, or treat a calf. So make sure that it’s dry, not standing water or mud, and as clean as possible.”
Many producers have a pasture set aside for calving; Troxel said that can be a very good practice for first-calf heifers, as it’s conducive to keeping a closer eye on those animals. But, he warned, “that pasture is an excellent place for respiratory disease or other diseases to go through those young baby calves. So as soon as the cow calves and gets up, the cow licks off that calf, it’s walking, it’s nursing, it’s bonded with the cow – get them out into a bigger pasture, so they can stay healthy.”


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