Plans change. However, with change comes the need to tweak them as they are implemented.
It was not that long ago (early April) that the Dickinson Research Extension Center decided to furlough the bulls for a month. As the breeding plans were being finalized and additional discussions were held, the bull turnout dates were set for mid-August. The change pulls the center's calving date further from the grips of winter and closer to the warmth of summer.
No one is hiding from the fact that calving times are subject to weather, as are all events in life. Yes, calving can have its bad days and the weather can be difficult. However, the consensus was that it was time to move to a grass-based operation. That consensus was arrived at with a little advice and lots of thought speckled with a little bit of data.
The data part is difficult because the ability to find good calving research is skimpy. There is a lot of good, solid research on many beef cattle topics.
However, other management practices and a lot of personal opinion often confound the comparison of calving dates. This makes the data difficult to interpret.
In the process of deciding what calving date to use, the ability to set up even a small test requires resources beyond what the center has.
As producers, the deciding can be even more difficult because, once the calving date is changed, the ability to go back is very difficult. Historically, as cattle producers, at least in the northern Plains, the goal has been to have 3- to 4-week-old calves ready to turn out to pasture. These calves are ready to gain and do well in cool-season grasses, followed by warm-season grasses and then fall regrowth.
In reviewing the outcomes, typical northern calves gain more than 2.5 pounds a day and weigh in excess of 635 pounds at roughly 7 months of age. With historic bull turnout dates the first week of June, the cows start calving in early to mid-March.
For many beef producers, 85 percent or more of the cows calve within 42 days from the start of calving. This mean almost 90 percent of the calves are on the ground, worked and ready to turn out to cool-season grasses, such as crested wheat grass, on May 1.
With the new calving dates, the challenge will be to maintain a profit while trying to understand if the previous outcomes still are possible. Of course, the obvious response is a notation that grass-fed cattle production reduces costs, so even though the above production expectations may not be met, the bottom line continues to be the same or, as some would claim, even greater.