Winter calving

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From BEEF cow/calf weekly

Production Efficiency With Tighter Margins, Rethink Winter Calving

Beef cow producers have always been looking for ways to enhance their beef cow profits. In the 1970s and 1980s the profit increasing focus was on weaning weights. There were two general ways that beef cow producers could increase weaning weights -- genetic improvement and earlier calving season. Both approaches to enhancing weaning weights were employed over the 1970s and 1980s.

It soon became clear that the fastest way to increase weaning weights was to move the calving season 30-60 days. During this era many producers moved their calving season up to January and February from the more traditional March and April calving season.

Genetically large cows calving in January and February have led to ever-increasing calf weights. North Dakota weaning weight data shows a 10-lb./per year gain in weaning weights over the decade of the 1980s. This increasing weaning weight trend went through 1993. By that time, producers were starting to recognize that something other than weaning weights was determining beef cow profits.

Pursuing production efficiency as the sole yardstick for measuring the success of winter calving probably has misguided many a winter calving rancher. It wasn't uncommon to find the calves on the cows 220-240 days, which led to lower reproduction efficiencies. The calves that were weaned were big but frequently there were fewer of them.

Yet, some producers were not even formally calculating their herd's reproductive efficiency. Indications are that unmeasured production costs (including farm raised feeds fed) went up even faster than weaning weights. This led to lower, not higher, beef cow profits with the changed calving season. As profit margins decrease, the economics of winter calving is now being questioned more and more.

Editor's note: Look for more on this calving season discussion in BEEF magazine's 2003 Cow-Calf Issue, which is due out on Feb. 15. The entire issue will be devoted to alternative calving seasons.

-- Harlan Hughes, a regular BEEF magazine monthly columnist, is a North Dakota State University professor emeritus. Contact him at 701/238-9607 or <A HREF="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</A>.

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