How to achieve the ideal calving window

For some beef producers, calving season is well underway or wrapping up; for others, calving won’t begin until the weather warms up and the herd is back on pasture. There are many factors that determine when a cow-calf producer will choose to calve out his cows, ranging from facilities, space, goals of the operation, seasonality of markets, labor requirements and the ability to deal with various weather stresses like winter blizzards, spring mud or summer heat and bugs.


For our operation, we choose to calve in February and March as our primary goal is to raise seedstock bulls for the commercial breeder, and we want these bulls to have enough age, growth and maturity at breeding time to go out and cover cows. We used to calve earlier in January, but with winter stock shows keeping us busy, we were too spread out having someone home calving out heifers while sending some of us to stock shows where we consign bulls for sale.

As a result, we’ve gradually transitioned to a little later in the winter, which doesn’t necessarily get us in the clear of South Dakota blizzards, but it does have the added advantage of helping us avoid the majority of the spring mud. Thankfully, we have the facilities to shelter newborn calves from the elements.

This week’s poll at beefmagazine.com asks, “Have you changed your calving dates?”

One of the management ideas being espoused is to move calving season later in the spring to allow the cows to take advantage of green grass and warmer weather. In the fall, however, calves will wean at lighter weights, which could change the timing and approach to marketing. Have you changed your calving dates?

With 89 votes so far, 55% of readers polled say, “Yes, we’ve moved our calving season later in the year to take advantage of green grass and warmer weather.” The remaining 45% say, “No, we are confident that our calving season dates are right for our operation.”

Vote in the poll here.

One reader writes, “Here in Illinois we deal with very wet springs and lots of mud. We try not to calve until we can be out on grass. Usually April 15.

Another reader writes, “Yes, but not for the reason stated. Looking at NOAA experimental long term forecast they're indicating below normal temperature for the northern third of the nation. Located in the traditional zone. I'll sell lighter calves in the fall of 2017 with all of their ears for the same head price as without, without all of the heart ache.”

An article written by Ryan Reuter for The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation offers some strategies for adjusting the timing of your calving season. Reuter writes, “Changing calving seasons can be a tricky proposition. One must realize the fact that moving cows up (ex. from April to March calving) is very slow. We typically have a hard enough time getting cows to calve every 12 months, much less every 11 months. Conversely, moving cows back (from spring to fall calving) is very expensive when ‘down’ time is taken into account.

“Options for moving your herd include buying/breeding heifers for the season you would like to convert to. Over time, your herd will gradually switch to the desired season. This will necessitate two calving seasons for most producers, which might not be a bad thing anyway. Dual calving seasons can reduce bull costs and spread marketing risk and labor, but they also increase the management requirement.”

Reuter also recommends a 70-90 day breeding window and writes, “Research in Nebraska concluded that a 70-day calving season struck the balance better than either a 45-day or a 120-day calving season. A cow's estrus cycle is 21 days long, so each cow should get three opportunities to conceive a calf in a 65-70 day breeding season.”

When is your ideal calving window? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

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