Early or late calving?

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Alberta farmer

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Nov 13, 2008
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At one time we calved very early, January/February(we were a purebred outfit). When we went totally commercial we moved them back to start on May 1st. We do not sell calves anymore.
In Alberta we don't have as many options as our southern neighbors. Brutally cold and snowy winters kind of make it tricky!
When we calved in January/February the cows were checked every two hours and any cow calving went into a barn. We could accomodate 26 pairs if we had to...and lots of times we had that many in! It was a lot of work.
Of course frozen ears could be a problem, and after all, we all know ears are the most expensive part of an animal? If you don't believe me just take a calf to the sale with frozen ears...about a 10-15 cent discount on a 600 lb steer. If those ears weigh 1/2 lb. you lost $60 to $90! Therefore those ears are worth about $120-$180 a pound! Of course the buyers have some BS excuse for this about foundering or something, but over the years I've fed out a few short eared calves and never had any problem with them! It always amazes me how the buyers can pick out any little fault and discount the he!! out of an animal when you know it is total BS!
I had a yearling steer last year go through the ring that was a wee bit lame...probably from getting the crap beat out of him back in the pens! The buyers figured they'd better discount him 50 cents/lb. until I stood up and said pass him. Then one really generous buyer said well I'll give you 70 cents(the going rate was 95 cents) and I said so everyone could hear "I'd rather feed him to the coyotes than let you SOBs steal him!" A lot of farmers/ranchers actually clapped after my little speech!
After a couple of days at home he was all healed up and the next week I took him to another sale barn and sold him for 96 cents!
We start cavling about March 5-10th. Our summers are very hot in Manitoba usually. So we let the bulls out June 1-5th. Then by the time the July heat kicks in most are finished breeding.
We like March calving because it usually starts to warm up, but we have had some brutal -30 weather at that time. As well, the grass starts to come once the calves are about 6 to 8 weeks old. Just in time for the mothers milk to increase. Then there is the other matter of the work load the rest of the year. At one time both hubby and i drove school bus regular routes, now i drive regularly and hubby is a spare. We planned for the majority of the cows to calve during spring break. Just kept it up. Works well for us
Last winter was my last Feb. calving unless my younger son decides to stay on the farm. If he does we will be going to registered.
It wasn't to bad when there were 3 of us but now my oldest is in college and I'm waiting to have back surgery so my 16 year old will have his hands full in Apr. I've probably scared him away too :help:
Good job on the buyers at the sale barn I applaud you too.
I had a neighbor that overheard 2 buyers prior to a sale telling each other "I won't bid on this group if you don't bid on this group".
What an evil bunch.
we have been working toward 2 seasons - fall we put the bulls in at thanksgiving until feb. 1st,we calve sept 1st - nov 1st. spring april 25 th until july 1st we calve feb 1st - april 1st. if the weather is rainy the creek washes out we have to run the whole group together(march 5th last year) and our spring cows will breed back to early..this year the first one was born jan 2nd, we have mild winters ,65 today, so i don't mind winter calves, but our summers can be brutal so i don't like summer calves. nothing worse then flies getting a baby calf it is cruel.
We usually start calving around Mar 1-5. This year our heifers will start about Feb 20. March works best for us as cows go to pasture about May 1 and most if not all the cows are done calving by then. Plus we sell calves at weaning and March calving gets them up to that 600 +/- lb weight for Oct/Nov sales. And, usually the weather is warming up by then, we can still get some cold days, but usually not too many of them.
My AI girls are due to start calving in a week or so, and the rest Feb. 1st.. Much better for me to have them be born on frozen ground than slush. Also I get a premium for my steers in Sept. compared to people that sell in Nov. Dec... Seed stock also for us has to be born the earlier in the year the better. Alot more management issues but in the end I like this best ,,,,,,,for now.. :help:

The only way to make pasture calving payoff (summer calving) in this region is to hold them over for a year and sell them privately..
marketing is part of our reasoning ,we like to sell by oct 1 - 15 we keep the fall over and sell spring with them all at once. i thnk i will market earlier this year.
hillsdown: You are exactly right about pasture calving outfits needing to hold the calves over. No way can a May/June calf be big enough to pay his way.
I think we made good money calving early back in the "good old days" before BSE, but I just decided if I'm going to get screwed I'm sure not going to be freezing my butt calving in winter! Maybe I just got old and lazy?
Now we calve in May/June and there are advantages for sure...and also some disadvantages! Not real keen on trying to get a cow up out of the bush if she has some kind of problem. The advantage is a lot less problems!
I like selling yearlings. I get to see how they perform on grass. The later calves often out perform the earlier ones.
It's really a personal choice. A wise old man once told me its not when they are born...its when you sell them that counts.
We used to start end of Feb. now that we are primarily purebred we are starting our AI's on the 23rd. Main herd starts Feb. 6. One year we decided to not start until March and go into April, it was the coldest March/April ever. Unless you are going to go as late as you do might as well calve Jan. it's just always cold here.

(Yeah, OK, so maybe our latest cold snap is getting to me -40 when I get up is just too cold)
For the past 3 years we have started to calve around middle of January. It seems always to be good warm weather until March when the snow comes heavy. We use to be March calvers but we weren't happy with the size when they went to market. One year the bull decided to start his job early and a couple cows calved in January, they were atleast twice the size compared to the others by the time we shipped them. Like any cattle farmer, we liked the $$$$ that came with this change. :banana:
Victoria and JKA: Sure agree with both of you on the March/April weather. It seems like March is becoming the toughest month of the winter anymore and April can be so darned unpredictable? I know January sometimes is alright...not so sure about last year...it was pretty brutal the last week or so?
I think if you have the facilities and don't mind the extra work winter calving can work very well, especially if you are selling calves?
I doubt many May/June calves would make 500 lbs. by late October while many Jan/Feb calves would be pushing down the scales at 750lb.? I think cow/calf producers, who don't want to carry calves over, would have a tough time with a late calving program.
Don't know if I do it the right way or not but I don't think I could cut it calving in the winter anymore. I'll leave that for you young ambitious types! Just hoping we all get better prices this year for both calves and yearlings.
You are right about last year. It was brutally cold when we were having our AI calves. Jan. 29 was -55 with windchil during the dayl. I know this because one of our bulls was born that day. We have one old un-heated barn, open on one side (that is our great facilities :lol:) and we had the cows that were due in the next few days in the corral. One cow I saw in the barn, standing chewing her cud. Had a sick cow the vet was out to see, spent 18 minutes with him and walked by the barn on the way to the house and the cow had a bull calf who was standing up trying to drink. I couldn't believe the whole thing was that quick and he was such a trooper even in such cold weather. His ears were frozen solid as soon as his head stuck out, his nose had a bit of frostbite. After he drank I grabbed him away for an hour then gave him back, I was hoping to save his ears and tail. I saved the tail not the ears. I did keep him as a bull though, I figure those are the kind of genetics and attitudes we need up here.

I don't blame you moving to nice weather. It's a lot of hay to feed over the winter though. You must have some good hayfields.

I am with you about prices, although I must say when we sold our calves last year I was surprised we got what we did for them, I was expecting worse. It gets depressing though, it's a lot of work for what you get out of it, no matter when you calve.
We were calving in February; we liked it better than January because there was a lot more daylight and usually the coldest days of the year are in the last two weeks of January. The end of March and April brought mud and wet snow. So I agree with some; calve them when it's frozen and cold or calve them on green grass when it's well above freezing.

We made the change to May/June calving based more on labour. Not so much the checking and calving of the cows becasue to me calving time is the most enjoyable time of the production cycle (other than when you sell them and get paid), but more in all the maintenance issues when the cows were calving. This is what we found.

1. The bred females are managed as one group the whole year through; no more having five pens or more of cows; the close-up calvers, the ones that just calved, the ones that calved two weeks ago, the ones that won't calve for another 2 weeks, etc. etc. This cut down our work load immensley (maybe that's spelled wrong?). Instead of feeding and bedding in five or more pens we fed as a whole group and the bedding doesn't have to be as good (or at all) when you don't have baby calves around.
2. We haven't treated a calf since we started calving on pasture. The cows and calves are sleeping in clean areas all the time, no barns, sheds, bedding packs to gather up germs. The cows udders stay clean so they don't pass around cocci or other illnesses to their calves via their teats. We also don't have the pneumonia in the spring that we used to; early in the spring we get days that are hot and well above freezing followed by nights that went well below freezing, throw high humidity due to thawing snow in there and you have sick calves.
3. Calving has been a breeze, no more checking cows every two hours. We check a couple times a day early in the season and once later on. We can't find them at night anyway so there's no point in checking. It's a lot nicer to take a walk with your wife and kids to check the cows in a t-shirt and shorts. Also we have way more daylight to work with.
4. The calves are smaller at birth; we averaged 6 lbs lighter two years ago and 9 lbs lighter this year compared to our winter calving. Thus the reason we don't have check as much. Fewer calving problems, and even the twins come out with fewer problems.
5. In our system the May calves don't suffer at all come weaning time; they are eating high quality grass by the end of June and into July; by the time grass quality is declining their rumen is developed enough to use the poorer grass and they don't skip a beat. Late June/July calves are another story; one of culling criteria is now calving date because of this. Haing said that calving on grass has improved fertility without us having to increase what we are feeding. This year we had 5% open and another 10% lates. With our AI program 85% of our cows exposed will calve in the first 30 days.
6. Based on research that I did before changing calving season there is really very little differnece in price (on average) when you sell them. August/September prices were only moderately stronger than October/November prices, and not as good as December/January prices. So my question was why am I increasing all my cash costs and labour just to get paid the same for my calves as the guy calving in May?? Granted the last two years in Alberta have been very different, with August being the strongest prices, but when the swing comes August may be the wrong time to sell. Wasn't too many years ago that I sold calves in August/September and watched my friends sell them for 20 cents more/lb in November (plus the added weight). This has happened pre and post BSE.
7. You do have to manage differently. We have now gone into backgrounding our calves becasue the prices have been poor in december. This will not always be the case but for now it is. We run a good herd health program and have not treated a calf after weaning and we we have been weaning in early december. We used lower stress weaning by weaning cows and calves accross a one wire eletric fence. It has worked well; only a few repeat escapees. the wather has not always been the best eaither; two years ago we had freezing rain the day after weaning.

Anyway thats probably too much typing already; thats just some of the things we have seen with our change.
We calve from the end of Fed till about early April. We have one small pasture, 15 acres, that we set aside for calving. The grass is stockpiled and runs around 18 inches tall. The cows go in there about a week or so before calving trhen out to other pastures that aren't muddy about a week after calving. The calving pasturte is close enough to the working pens that I can run them over to the chute if need be and can run them across the scale to get a calf weight.
Victoria: Not sure what you meant by using more hay? Cows are usually only fed until May 10th and only a bit from the end of April. They calve on a 160 acre "bush quarter" that is partly grazed in December the year before. Quite a few willow clumps to hide their babies! Lots of long grass. Now if you ever have a problem it can be fun getting them up to the chute.
We seem to have very few calving problems with this system. The heifers are calved in a corral beside the barn.
For the past 3 years we have started to calve around middle of January. It seems always to be good warm weather until March when the snow comes heavy. We use to be March calvers but we weren't happy with the size when they went to market. One year the bull decided to start his job early and a couple cows calved in January, they were atleast twice the size compared to the others by the time we shipped them. Like any cattle farmer, we liked the $$$$ that came with this change.

At least twice the size in just sixty days?? Sounds like a pipe dream to me, unless there were some other factors you left out.

I agree with you on the change. In our environment I don't see much advantage to calving in March; I would rather calve in January and avoid the cold wet snows and mud. You also have a little more marketing flexibility depending on prices; you can sell early or hold them a little longer. Still don't think I'd trade you for my May calving though.

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