Financial opportunities are available for producers who move to planned breeding seasons supported by good genetics and an effective forage program. These practices provide an opportunity to optimize expenses and produce a uniform calf crop which normally brings premium prices.
Benefits of planned breeding seasons have been shown by previous research with both a fall and winter calving herd of F1 Brahman/Hereford cows at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Overton. These cows have a defined 75-day breeding period and are used in stocking rate and stocking strategy research by Monte Rouquette Jr. Rouquette’s work featured in this article was originally published in his AgriLife Research “Selection of Calving Season” report.
“Regardless of the season, cows should have body condition scores of 5 or greater at calving,” Rouquette said. “Some producers evaluate cow body condition scores when bulls are turned into the herd, but the best time for evaluations is at weaning. At the same time, palpate cows and seriously consider selling those that are open. A producer cannot afford to have cows at body condition scores at 4 or less during breeding due to the need for added nutrients.”
Fall-calving cows, after weaning and during the summer, can gain at least one body condition score on bermudagrass pastures without supplement. At Overton, bulls are turned into the herd on the first of December and left for 75 days. Calving begins around the first of September, with 80% to 90% of the calf crop born within the first 30 to 45 days. They are weaned from mid-June to the first of July.
“A defined late-fall breeding period beginning first of December reduces chances of cows and bulls becoming stressed by harsh winter conditions. Calves are born in early September through mid-November, which allows them to prepare for winter,” Rouquette said. “Having calves on the ground in September and October allows a gain of 3 pounds per day during the spring March-April flush of small grain, ryegrass, and/or clover. A daily gain of 3 pounds increases average calf weights from approximately 450 pounds to 700 or more pounds at weaning.”
Another positive attribute of fall calving is that cows are dry during July and August when the herd is subjected to a higher degree of stress due to factors such as high temperatures, low nutritive values in forage, external parasites and possibly drought. Rouquette suggests initiating all production and grazing plans with good body condition scores and soil tests on summer perennial and winter annual forage pastures. Cows with a body condition score of 5 or greater at time of calving, plus pastures fertilized with needed nutrients for optimal forage production, equal a soil-plant-animal combination that can pay good dividends.
Calving season is a management decision which is best decided after consideration of all the options. “Selection of a calving season or seasons offers the challenge of matching forage production and nutritive value of pasture systems with rebreeding the cow herd,” Rouquette said. “The selected calving season should offer the best opportunity to reach goals such as weaning percent, weaning weight and percent rebreeding.
“Most appropriate management strategies to attain proper body condition and reliable 12-month calving intervals are uniquely related to forage and pasture conditions during the dry cow period from weaning to the next calving event. Too often, dry cows are pastured on reduced levels of forage mass and nutrient value that do not allow for increased body weight and condition,” Rouquette continued. “A couple of options are available for supplying the needed mass and nutrients. One option is a warm-season perennial grass pasture that provides productive and reliable forage production as hay and/or stockpiled forage for winter feed. Another option is a warm-season perennial grass pasture suitable for overseeding with cool-season annual forages such as small grain, ryegrass and/or clover.”
Factors to consider in calving season selection, recommended by Rouquette, include the following:
• The calving season offering the best opportunity to wean heavy calves.
• The calving season when forage can meet nutritional requirements for dry cow weight gain, reducing hay, supplement and labor costs.
• The calving season offering the best timing or opportunities for merchandising and selling calves and cull cows at the best prices.
“Producers might want to plan for forage and pasture availability to allow potential retained ownership of calves from weaning for an additional 100 to 200 days of grazing. Retained ownership post-weaning could fit any calving season,” Rouquette said. “Weaned fall-born calves would graze during summer months, and winter- or weaned spring-born calves would graze during the winter-spring period. Activities involved in the different various calving season options of fall, winter or spring are shown in Tables 1, 2 and 3.”
Conversion to planned breeding
Curt Lacy, previously with University of Florida IFAS Extension, now with Mississippi State University, suggested a three- to four-year program for beef cattle producers who use year-round breeding and would like to convert to a 90-day controlled breeding season. The conversion involves choosing a final day for breeding and culling cows not pregnant after that date. Once a date has been selected, managers should assess production records and determine if the cutoff date will cause a large number of culls. If so, the breeding dates may need reevaluation. Producers may choose split calving seasons if the chosen cutoff dates are desired.
“Using split calving seasons involves dividing one herd into two,” Lacy said. “This results in two breeding seasons and two calving seasons. Under a split herd system, the needed number of bulls is reduced during breeding. To successfully incorporate a split calving season, however, additional pastures, management and time are required. Producers limited in these resource areas should consider an alternative approach.”
A controlled breeding season requires a separate pasture with strong fencing for bulls when they are removed from the cow herd. Bulls will escape from inadequate facilities and reenter the ranch cow herd or one belonging to a neighbor. If producers do not want to build additional fencing or have limited acreage, alternatives are maintaining bulls in a remote pasture, leasing pasture or leasing bulls. To ensure bulls are healthy, fertile and functional, they should receive a complete breeding soundness exam prior to the breeding season’s beginning.
A simple timeline for conversion of a year-round breeding program to a defined season using a three-year approach is found in Table 4. Another resource demonstrating these same steps using a spreadsheet is found at www.secattleadvisor.com.
“Controlled or planned breeding offer cow-calf producers many benefits related to management and profits,” Lacy said. “Positive impacts on production revenue stem from more efficient facilitation of herd health treatments, easier culling of unproductive and unsound cattle and marketing of a uniform calf crop.”