Sunday, April 12, 2015

April Calves

For a number of reasons, the peak of my calving season has slowly moved over the years from mid-February to mid-April. Since I haven't been feeding much hay for awhile, last week I moved the cows to a different pasture than the one I wintered them on so that most of them would calve on some fresh ground which is always better for the calves.

The pasture I moved them to is a long strip that's about 30 acres and is probably the largest remnant of native prairie on the farm. In a good, wet year the grass will grow so thick that it's almost hard to walk through.  It's a great place for the cows to have their calves, but it can be a job if you're the guy trying to find those calves.
With the way the cows are quickly gaining condition on this pasture, how mild the weather has been, how I don't have to worry about freak cold snaps or building a bunch of windbreaks, and how quick the April calves seem to catch up to the March calves, I'm starting to better understand what the guys that claim April/May calving is better than February/March calving are talking about.  

The older I get, the more I'd rather walk around without a coat looking for calves laying out in the sun than struggle through knee-deep snow trying to carry a cold newborn calf to a sheltered area.

8 comments:

  1. There has to be a reason why people like to calve that early in the year. They do it here too. If it were me and I had a choice, I would always shoot for April over February every year. I suspect it has something to do with the timing of the other end of the gestation cycle but I don't know how long a cow's is.

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    1. For a cow to calve on Feb 15,she would have to be bred around May 9. If she's calving on April 15 she'd have to be bred on July 7 which around here could be a problem if it's too hot.

      Whenever it gets above 90 degrees there can be problems with the bull's fertility especially if it gets above a 100 degrees and stays hot over night. That's one reason my calving season has crept to later in the year, in 2011 the temperatures were in the hundreds in May right after I put the bulls in and the cows didn't get bred until a little later than usual.

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  2. We also do April, although we started this year in March.

    Really early used to be common everywhere, but I suspect that reflected something different about cattle prices and the market of the time.

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    1. One of my neighbors likes to have his cows calving in December and January which makes a little sense when I think about it. The weather is usually pretty predictable that time of the year, it's starting to cool down in Sept and October when he puts his bulls in, and the calves will be ready to wean before the really bad heat of summer starts in July and August.

      The way cattle prices are right now, I'm getting about the same price per head for a 500 lb. calf as a 600 lb. calf, so I can almost make as much from a calf born in April as one born in Feb. In the past, I'm not so sure that was possible.

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    2. Here the earlier dates risk too much added winter weather. Having said that, huge snow storms do occur here in April, which might have been the incentive for earlier calving at one time. We usually, in most years (but undoubtedly not this year) get more snow in this month of the year over any other.

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    3. I started out calving in February, then after we had some pretty bad snowstorms, I moved calving to a little later in March. Then, we had relatively mild Februarys and some freak ice storms in March.

      Recent Aprils have been like this one with mild weather, but back when I had a Feb/Mar calving season we had Aprils that were wet and muddy for most of the month, so I'm not sure if there is a "perfect" time to calve.

      Oklahoma State University's Beef Extension has some articles/research that suggests that a fall calving season might be the best for Oklahoma, especially when combined with grazing wheat pasture. The weather in fall is usually mild, the calves are supposed to be smaller (something to do with warmer weather during gestation), breeding season would be in Dec/Jan, and the calves would be weaned in the summer before the native grasses start slowing down.

      On paper it all sounds good and it might be an option for me in the future, but I'd hate to have that six month gap with no calves if I tried to move all my spring calving cows to a fall calving season.

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  3. The heat makes a lot of sense to me. We often have 90 degree plus weather all through July.

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    1. Heat stress causes the bull's sperm motility to really drop and it can take 60 days for it to return to normal after a period of major heat stress. He can get a cow bred during that period, but since he's producing less viable sperm there's a much bigger chance that the cow just won't get bred.

      Back in 2011, it was over a hundred degrees every day for months, and combined with the drought it was even hot at night. Because it was so dry, the ground would heat up during the day and then it would radiate heat all night so it made the problem worse than it would have been if it had just been hot and humid. It was so hot that summer (105-115 degrees) that when it finally dropped to the 90's it actually felt nice and cool.

      Before 2011, I had a relatively short calving season were most of my cows would calve in 45 days, but it started to stretch out after 2011 so that now I have a longer, later calving season. In a perfect world, I'd sell all those late calving cows and shorten my calving season back to wee it used to be, but I don't live in a perfect world.

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