Calving season is just concluding for many people across the heartland, yet it’s already time to prepare for next year. Setting up a successful calving season doesn’t start two weeks before the first heifers are brought up in the spring, but rather it starts during the breeding season.
Many producers calve their first calf heifers prior to the start of the mature cow herd. Typically they will start 30 to 45 days ahead of the cow herd, which makes sense logistically. In 2004 Dargatz and colleagues surveyed a national sample of cow–calf producers to evaluate calving management practices on operations throughout the United States. Their findings showed that these first calf heifers are the most prone to dystocia, or calving difficulties, with 97% of all mature cows calving with no assistance needed, while only 83% of heifers calve without need of assistance. In addition, calving difficulties account for 57% of all calf loss, thus by calving the heifers before the cows producers are able to give the needed attention necessary to reduce the number of calves lost to dystocia.
However, there are additional benefits to calving first calf heifers prior to the mature herd. Classical research has taught producers that females that calve early in the calving season, will rebreed early in the breeding season, and continue to do so throughout their lifetime. This allows females to stay within the annual production cycle, becoming pregnant earlier during the subsequent breeding season, in addition to weaning more pounds of calf throughout their lifetime, when compared to later calving counterparts.
Allowing first calf heifers to calve ahead of the mature cow herd will help to set those females up for rebreeding success for the remainder of their time within your cow herd. Giving them an additional 30 to 45 days to add to their postpartum interval, increases the likelihood that those females will become pregnant with their second calf at the beginning of the mature cow herd’s breeding season, and allow them to continue doing so throughout their lifetime.
According to the South Dakota Center for Farm/Ranch Management 2012 Annual Report producers culled on average 12% of their females. In typical production scenarios, data has shown that a majority of females (37%) are culled for not becoming pregnant (NAHMS 2007-2008). Ultimately when females calve early in the breeding season, it allows them a greater opportunity to become pregnant within the defined breeding season, maintaining the 365 day calving interval, resulting in increased longevity of cows within the herd.
Therefore we can see that by allowing your first calf heifers to calve prior to the mature cow herd not only allows producers to focus on their young females that are more susceptible to having issues, but also will set them up for successful entry into the mature cow herd.