In the past two issues of Growing Beef, we highlighted potential benefits of transitioning all or a portion of the herd to a fall-calving timeframe as well as nutritional considerations for those females. In this final segment of this mini-series, we’ll focus on a few managerial practices that will help boost productivity and profitability in that fall-calving group.
Early Weaning
Perhaps the biggest question is how early fall calving-cows should be weaned. It has been shown that weaning the calf can reduce nutrient requirements of the cow by as much as 30%-50%. As long as these calves are 90 or more days of age, this decision should be mostly dependent on the amount of stockpiled forage on hand. Because stockpiles are likely the cheapest high-quality feedstuff available, they are probably best used to support lactation. If high quality forage is no longer available for grazing, it’s probably time to wean.
Delivering harvested forage or supplement will quickly diminish the bottom line on this production group. It should be noted, however, that stockpiles are an excellent feedstuff for the newly weaned calf as well. The most efficient period for weight gain in a beef animal occurs as a calf, so allowing calves access to stockpiles makes an excellent use of this forage in facilitating inexpensive gains. For integrated operations that also have a row crop enterprise, the increased use of cover crops provides another feedstuff that may be best used by a fall-calving female in lactation.
Identifying Best Marketing Strategy
Research in Tennessee and Arkansas has identified a key advantage of fall calving as more calves marketed per cow and increased cow stayability, thus more total income per cow. The feeder calf market opportunities with fall born calves are vast, including options such as winter backgrounding followed by sales at grass turn-out time, growing the calves on excess spring grass on the home farm followed by mid-summer marketing, and retained ownership to finish and sell calves into a fall-winter market window.
Historically, the spring feeder calf market has been higher than fall prices. (Who knows this year?!?)
At the time of this writing, 2015 projections on for southern Iowa feeder cattle markets find 550-600-lb. feeder steers with projected cash price of $2.45-2.50 per pound in April, and 750-lb. steers to sell in July at $2.20.
Breeding Soundness Exams (BSEs)
It should go without saying that BSEs should be conducted approximately 30 days prior to any breeding season. However, many producers think of this as a springtime-only management practice. BSEs should not be overlooked, particularly if you have a spring calving herd that will share bull power with your fall cows. Just because bulls were fertile in May does not guarantee they’ll be ready for November. Poor nutrition from drought or heat stress during the summer breeding season can have negative impacts on sperm production and quality for 60 days or more. Also, penile injuries can go unnoticed without proper evaluation. Because many cows are in the fall herd due to failure to conceive during the previous summer, every possible precaution should be taken to recoup losses from that unproductive period.
There is no doubt that fall calving can be a lucrative business model for many beef producers in the Cornbelt. However, it likely will require a host of managerial changes relative to the spring herd. As with any significant change in management scheme, be sure to consult with the team of experts you’ve assembled -- including your beef extension specialist, herd health veterinarian, and nutritionist -- to ensure a successful transition.