Knowing the pros and cons will help producers make the choice that is right for their herd and operation
Part of agriculture is learning to adapt and shift management practices to ever changing weather patterns, consumer demands and life events. Breeding and calving seasons are practices that may sometimes need to change. With some forethought and planning, producers in the Ozarks can make an informed choice on whether a change in calving season will benefit their farm.
Weather plays a large role in the timing of calving season. With the wet winters and springs of the past couple of years, some producers are considering a change.
“The onslaught of a wet, cold winter, several blizzards and unbelievable flooding has caused some Midwest cattle producers to re-examine the timing of future calving seasons,” Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist, said.
It’s appealing to think of calving in the late spring to early summer months to avoid a muddy mess and potential calf loss due to damp, cold weather, but there are other concerns.
“If the calving season is moved to May and June, then the breeding season must be moved to August and September,” Selk noted. “Of course, then producers have summer’s heat to consider when breeding. In the upper Midwest, breeding seasons in the hotter months of summer may be feasible. Although 90- to 100-degree days may occur, nighttime temperatures will often cool to 70 degrees or lower.”
He went on to add, however, that in Oklahoma and Texas, August daytime temperatures often reach near or above triple digits and nighttime lows may only cool about 80 degrees. A high-pressure heat dome may lock in very hot days and warm nights for an extended period of time. The number of hours each day that the temperature is above the thermal neutral maximum (80 degrees in the bovine) is sizeable. There is little, if any opportunity, for the cow to dissipate heat in this scenario. Therefore heat stress becomes a biological nemesis to good reproductive performance in late summer months.
Monitoring summer temperatures in the Ozarks can give producers an idea of if their area might reach cool enough temperatures for this breeding season shift to be feasible.
Money is also a consideration in undertaking a calving season shift. Erin Larimore, University of Missouri livestock field specialist, explained changing a calving season can be a cash-flow/production issue. Rolling cows from one calving-season to another results in lost income. It’s difficult to move cows up a breeding season simply due to the post-partum interval – the time it takes her to recover from having a calf until she resumes cycling.
Feed and forage will come into play if a producer chooses to shift breeding and calving seasons.
“April/May/June calving season does a better job of matching forage availability with animal needs, as good quality forage is typically readily available when cows have their highest nutrient requirements. If producers are aiming on a switch from spring calving season to fall,” Larimore said. this season offers better weather for calving and breeding, “but we are usually hauling the feed to them when they have their highest nutrient demand in the worst weather.”
She added if there are stockpiled grasses, that is not the case. Considering forage management and potentially implanting new practices such as rotational grazing and stockpiling can aid producers in making the switch.
The bottom line is there is no one right answer for whether or not producers should change their calving season. Observation, research and management are key to making calving season decisions that reflect the unique needs and goals of each individual farm.