North Dakota cattle producers are faced with many decisions and must utilize their resources as efficiently and profitably as possible. These resources can be influenced greatly by the time of year that calving is scheduled. Feed quality and quantity as well as investments in facilities and equipment can be affected by the selected calving season.
Fall calving may offer several advantages for producers, including:
1. Ideal calving weather: fall calving offers ideal conditions with no worries of winter storms. Producers report almost no scour problems.
and management flexibility: by calving in the fall, calves
are ready to be sold at non-traditional times of the year.
They can be sold at a premium
because of limited supplies of cattle at these times. Calves can be sold in May or June as grass cattle or pastured and sold as yearlings. Cows are also at a
premium in the spring when the fall calves are weaned and when cull cows are sold.
3. Bull requirements: bull costs are greatly reduced by running both a spring and fall herd. The same bull can be used for both herds.
4. Stocking rate flexibility: in drought years, calves can be sold at weaning. When forage is adequate, they can be pastured as stockers.
5. Multiple use of facilities: fall calves can utilize well protected areas during winter and be moved out before spring calving begins.
6. Labor: fall calving may help to spread out the yearly work load.
7. Cash flow: since calves are sold at non-traditional times, income is spread more evenly over a calendar year.
There may however, be some disadvantages to fall calving. They include:
1. Feed requirements: the fall calving cow may require higher levels of nutrition to keep performance at acceptable levels.
2. Labor conflicts with harvest: most ranchers are also involved with farming. Fall calving can conflict with harvest but does not interfere with spring planting.
3. Facilities: fall calves do require a well protected area during severe winter weather. Windbreak fence and bedding are a requirement in this area.
4. Animal performance: performance of fall calves is uncertain.
Nineteen young open cows from the CGREC herd and 18 open cows from a local rancher were acquired in the fall of 1992 to start a fall calving herd. Additional open cows from the spring calving herd have been added each fall. Typically, the breeding season for the fall calving cows begins about November 1 and continues for about 45 days. This means that the cows begin calving about the second week of August and are done by October 1. Winter feeding starts about November 1. Cows with calves are fed approximately 35 pounds of alfalfa - grass hay per head per day until weaning in mid-March. Open cows, added from the spring herd, are wintered on lower quality prairie hay. These cows, once bred, have low requirements because they are not lactating and are in their first trimester of pregnancy. Calves are weaned in mid-March to mid-April. They are then backgrounded until turnout onto native grass in May. They are on pasture until about September 1. Cows are pastured on tame grass pastures starting in late April. They are then moved to native pastures in June.
compares adjusted 205 day weaning weights of our fall born
calves. Only calves from similar sires were used for this
comparison. In 1994, the spring born calves were 23 pounds
heavier (577 lbs vs 600 lbs) than the fall born calves. The
year 1995 also showed an adjusted weaning weight advantage
for the spring born calves of 26 pounds (550 lbs vs 576
lbs). 1996 showed an advantage of 43 pounds, 1997 showed a
38 pound weaning weight advantage, and 1998 had a 16 pound
advantage. The fall born calves had a five-year average
weaning weight of 572 pounds and the spring born calves
averaged 601 pounds. On average for these five years, the
spring born calves had adjusted weaning weights 29 pounds
heavier than our fall born calves.
|Table 1. Adjusted Calf Weaning Weights.|
Table 2 shows the performance of the fall born calves during their summer stocker phase. The first two years, 1994 and 1995, only steers were grazed while the data from 1996 to 1998 also include heifers. The calves have averaged 583 pounds at spring turnout, with a high of 631 pounds in 1995 and a low of 544 pounds in 1997. The lower weights in 1997 were certainly caused by the long and severe winter.
have been taken off grass at an average of 786 pounds around
September 5. They have averaged 116 days on grass over the
five-year period with an average daily gain of 1.74 pounds.
No supplemental feed other than salt and mineral were
provided during this summer period.
|Table 2. Stocker Phase.|
|Average weight at spring turnout (lbs)||580||631||570||544||592||583|
|Average weight in fall (lbs)||825||821||734||783||768||786|
|Average daily gain (lbs)||2.25||1.60||1.46||1.91||1.47||1.74|
|Fall weigh date||8/24||9/7||9/4||9/16||9/8||9/6|
|Days on grass||109||119||112||125||117||116|
In 1995 and
1997, we decided to evaluate our fall born steers in the
feed lot and rail. We compared these steers to a group of
spring born steers of similar breeding. The spring born
steers were finished in Kansas while the fall born steers
were finished in Fargo. Table 3 shows the feedout
information. The spring born steers had lighter start
weights (599 lbs vs 787 lbs), but heavier final weights
(1281 lbs vs 1215 lbs). The spring born steers were on feed
103 more days than the fall borns (226 vs 123). The fall
born calves gained faster, (3.48 vs 3.02 ADG) yet both
groups had a similar percentage of carcasses grading choice
(57.0% to 55.0%). Since the spring born calves are on feed
longer and had higher feed costs, as well as lower selling
prices, they lost $83.98 per head. The fall born steers
returned a profit of $7.35 per head. We will probably follow
more groups of calves in the future.
Table 3. 1995 and 1997 Calf Feedout.
|Number of head||105||38|
|Average start wt. (lbs)||599||787|
|Average final wt. (lbs)||1281||1215|
|Average Days on feed||226||123|
|Average daily gain (lbs)||3.02||3.48|
have expressed concern over increased feed costs for fall
calving cows. We have recorded average feed intakes of our
fall calving cows. Both spring and fall calving cows are fed
long stem grass or alfalfa-grass hay from large round bales.
Bales are weighed periodically, but final consumptions are
only an estimate and include spoilage and waste. Table 4
shows the estimated feed consumption of the spring and fall
calving cows. The cows are fed similar diets, but for
different lengths of time and at different times of the
year. We broke it down into gestation diets and late
gestation-lactation diets. The gestation diet is generally
lower quality and includes CRP hay, prairie hay and
sometimes straw. The spring calving cows are fed this diet
for about 90 days starting on about December 1. The fall
calving cows are fed the gestation diet for about 30 days
after weaning their calves in early April. We valued this
hay at $35/ton. The late gestation-lactation diet is fed to
the spring calving cows starting about 30 days prior to
calving until turnout to pasture. A similar diet is fed to
the fall calving cows starting at breeding time in early
November until weaning in late March. This diet consists of
better quality hay, including alfalfa-grass hay and oat hay.
The feed cost for the fall calving cows is estimated at
about $20 higher than the spring calving cows ($144.00 vs
$124.20). The total pounds of hay consumed is very similar
between the two groups at 6,120 pounds for the spring
calvers and 6,600 pounds for the fall calvers. Fall calving
is a viable alternative for area producers. The project is
being continued to increase the database on all aspects of
fall calving in the Coteau area of North Dakota.
|Table 4. Estimated Cow Feed Consumption.|
|Lbs per day||30||30|
|Days on feed||90||30|
|Lb. per day||38||38|
|Days on feed||90||150|
|Total feed cost||$124.20||$144.00|
|Total pounds of hay||6120||6600|
Central Grasslands Research Center
4824 48th Ave. SE
Streeter, ND 58483