After 50 years of working to make Mother Nature a partner in the ranching business, Paul Redd switched to June calving when he finally admitted that he was violating his own principles.
“Sure, we were using Mother Nature to help us find the best-producing cows by culling all those that didn't wean a calf each year,” says the patriarch at Redd Ranches, a 1,200-cow commercial and registered operation in southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah.
“At the same time, we were ignoring the high cost of forcing an arbitrary calving date. We wanted March-April calves.” However, green-up doesn't start until sometime in March in his country, and there usually isn't enough spring forage for a cow to get a mouthful until May. “Cows were calving when there was not enough quality forage to support her and her new calf.”
So for more than 40 years, they tried various supplements. Those supplements added from $50-$150/cow for the seven months of winter and spring feeding. While they quit feeding when they moved to June calving, they still supplement with minerals and urea, but at significantly less cost.
Their switch to June calving several years ago with their commercial cows yielded several positive results, not the least of which was lighter birth weights and less stress on the cows and calves. That translates into better calf health and survivability.
In addition, it's less stressful on the cowboys. They lowered costs by putting fewer miles on the horses and pickups, and have more market opportunities and more marketing flexibility for their calves.
There are, however, some downsides. “We cannot brag about the weaning weight of our calves,” Redd says. Calves born in June rather than March out of the same bull are 20% lighter. “But we feel good about their weight per day of age and how well they sell.” In addition, getting cows bred on mature grass led to a 1-2% drop in pregnancy rates.
That was unexpected, but their total number of calves weaned per cow exposed increased 2-3% due to better calf survival. And next year, they plan to provide higher-quality feed by returning in September and October to the regrowth in pastures grazed in June and July. “Some of the forage should still be green and growing with better overall forage value,” he says.
Is Redd glad he made the switch? “Oh yes. It feels good to be in synch with the land and the forage produced. We like the marketing options. We like spring. We like lower costs. We like less stress. Life is better,” he says.