Category Archives: Cattle

When to Calve

To all there is an appointed time, even a time for every purpose under the heavens: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pull up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to let wander away; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew together; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 (Hebraic Roots Bible)

For the past several years, my cows have been bred to calve 15 April to 30 May. Though that is earlier than i prefer, it was a decision i made some 8 years ago because i was having up to 30% death loss in baby calves getting scours. Scours so bad that sometimes the calves would die before they even passed that first scouring poop! That was calving 15 May to 30 June. So after a great deal of research into the possibilities, i made the decision to push it back. And that made all the difference – not one single case of scours since that time.

Now, i did sell those cows which lost their calves, so that is likely a good part in the reason there are no longer any cases of scours, yet it’s not the full explanation. Corriente cows tend to have rich milk, which, combined with the heat caused by grazing toxic fescue and the outside air temperature may cause additional stress on baby calves.

However, today’s weather is a reminder of why April is too early in north central Missouri to start the calving. Although my calving season officially starts 15 April, there have already been 6 calves born – fortunately, the weather has been decent until today and it is pouring down cold rain, muddy conditions, temperature at 46F (wind chill 40F) and a stiff 14 mph NNW winter type wind. Very hard are on young and newborn calves.

So, yesterday, after hearing once again from Jaime Elizondo (others have advised as well and i know better), i plan to wait to turn in the bulls 23 July for 45 days. It is with trepidation that i make this change when, despite crappy April weather these past several years, i’ve not lost any baby calves.

Here is to change once again. On the other end of it, it’s always a problem to wean calves the first week of March when grass is yet so far away and there is bitter weather ahead of them. Calving later will allow me to wait another 2-3 weeks before weaning the following year and the cows will have better weather in which to regain good condition. However, leaving the bulls in a couple more weeks is the only way to avoid me being in ragweed season to remove them. (many of my decisions revolve around ragweed season due to me being incapacitated during that time)

So, what have i decided going forward? To completely avoid ragweed season, I plan to turn out the bulls about August 4 and pull them back out about 45 days later which is September 19. Hope it works!!!

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna

Calves born earlier – before the onset of toxic endophyte fescue – thrived! This Longhorn cow had a dandy heifer calf.
Never plan to have cows calving in the winter! This was a purchased cow which the seller assured me they were spring calvers – he lied.

Operational Considerations

Change is not always good – certainly i’ve made more than my share of changes that have turned out badly and/or expensively. But i’ve learnt, tried, and found what i do NOT want to do.

When my children were little and had their own bits to do, i planned and built with their little bodies in mind. In other words, all the equipment and chores had to be designed so that a child can do it and be successful without overcoming them with too much work. I find that the older i get the more i need to lean back into that mindset for myself!! The adage of work smarter, not harder is becoming more important – in reality, it’s always the right thing. As David Pratt reminds me “you can be efficiently doing the wrong thing.” The key is to be effective. Is what i’m doing important to my goals – what are my goals? Am i aiming for the right target?

I’ve learnt from many grazing teachers (or as they are often referred to ‘gurus’), my experience and knowledge has greatly increased as i implemented their suggestions and techniques. But, when “Total Grazing” caught my attention, I was intrigued enough to explore this new thought process. My farming/ranching operation is now poised to become more fun and more profitable and I’m excited again about my career/lifestyle choice ingrained in my DNA and encouraged by my Grandpa Falconer on whose land (now mine) my cattle graze.

Some general thoughts, considerations, ideas, suggestions, and changes:

  1. Forage testing not needed – observe your cows and their manure. Of course, i had just tested 3 spots of forage and spent $150 in testing and shipping (not counting labor -because farmers don’t do that but should). When i sent the results to Jaime Elizondo, who has developed the pillars of Real Wealth Ranching, he advised me to observe the manure as to whether or not the cows need supplemental protein on mature forages. I was surely wanting him to tell me which of the protein results numbers generated is the one i choose to determine the need for protein (all the numbers were at the 8% threshold). Funnily, he would NOT answer that question. He patiently, yet persistently, circled back to “observe the manure”. So, that is what i will do – and i will no longer waste money on forage sampling.
  2. Consider weaning all spring born calves before December then selling or feeding them through winter. I’m not keen on feeding calves through winter or anytime for that matter, however, i will consider weaning then selling the steers and any heifers i won’t keep for replacements. I would then have far fewer animals to feed. I’m not set up to feed calves, so that will take some planning. Pulling the calves off earlier than March (my traditional weaning time) will give the cows a much longer time to recover as well as not have the stress of nursing the big calves in addition to preparing to calve in April.
  3. It would be nice to get away from purchasing high protein tubs – handling them is doable by myself despite them weighing 200 lbs each. I simply slide them out of the bed of my pickup into the bed of my John Deere Gator, then in the pasture, i pull the tub out onto the ground. I can haul 2 tubs at once this way. I’ve also hauled 6 to the pasture in the back of my pickup, but this is tricky in winter because of bad roads and muddy or snowy/icy fields.
  4. A better protein supplement is good quality alfalfa or other high protein legume or grass hay. I’m not sure how i can implement this with the equipment i have. However, it could be that weaning the calves before December will eliminate any protein supplementation for the cows.
  5. Given the distance from my house to the farm, i know i cannot implement the everyday 4x a day moves. However, i can do this more often if i don’t have the expense of other labor intensive chores. Wintertime, however, has a different challenge in that sometimes road conditions won’t allow me to get there for up to a week or rarely even longer!
  6. This year (2021), i am very low on cows numbers because i sold so many last year to avoid feeding any hay – thankfully, i did so because i will have to start feeding hay had i not done so – still going to be close. So, what to do to increase numbers for the upcoming grazing season? This is a question i am researching and deciding – what do i like to do? Stockers? Heifers? Steers? Cow/calf pairs? There are tools to help with the financial decisions but the quality of life decision is mine.
  7. To reclaim the 120 acre Bowyer farm, i’ve been advised by two friends, Greg Judy, regenerative rancher (and wife, Jan, on Green Pastures Farm) in Clark, Missouri, USA and José Manuel Gortázar, Savory holistic instructor teaching in Coyhaique, Chile on the farm he and his wife, Elizabeth, own and operate – Fundo Panguilemu not to worry with planting anything on the soil which has been organically soybeaned for 4 years. It is likely there is plenty of seed still in the soil which will come back with proper grazing management. I do know from observation, that the one year the farmer didn’t not plant soybeans it grew massive (like 6 feet tall!) foxtail and cocklebur. Not good choices, but very high quality forage actually if grazed at the right time. I’ve considered dragging a no-till drill up there and putting in oats as a suppressive, but weighing the cost and time to do so is not fun. I don’t like to drive a tractor and machinery plus our 15 foot drill does not shift to an inline pull, so it’s kind of dangerous to get it up to my farm on the long narrow and hilly roads. I think we are selling our no-till drill this year anyway. Running machinery is not a high priority for us and there are only so many hours in the day.

Every year, I make changes to my annual ‘itinerary’ and this one is no different. Time to type up a new plan.

Cheers!

Challenges or Opportunities

Oftentimes, we view challenges as mountains to overcome, but sometimes, those challenges are opportunities to diversify or force us to find the holes in our operations, the ‘dead wood’ as Stan Parson would call it.

I’ve penciled feeding hay vs grazing only. And even though feeding hay – even cheap hay and high calf prices – it is seldom (actually never) the path to take. Yet, i’ve taken it and been exhausted by mid-winter feeding hay! Now that i’m older, i must – forced, if you will — eliminate that practice. This year is tough – we are in a drought, so eliminating hay this year with little winter stockpile forage growth means a deep culling of my cow herd.

As markets have changed from their high in 2014, I also must let go of my beautifully colored Corriente and Longhorn cows. They have been a joy, but i can no longer justify the current deep discount those crossbred calves bring at market. My cow herd after November 19, 2020 will be almost exclusively black or red Angus.

Going forward, i’ve rigidly utilized the clever alliteration from the Noble Research Institute Foundation to start with my culling selections.

Old, Ornery, or Open.

This should be used every year actually, but i’ve let too many cows slide (not the ornery ones – they go quickly) through the years and this year is the year to clean up and add value. This year’s cattle prices have a lot of pressure with low demand and anything a bit off is deeply discounted.

  1. Even if a cow has really nice calf at side but comes up open (not pregnant) she needs selling because she will be freeloading for another year at least once her calf at side is sold. Plus, if she has a heifer i keep as a replacement, those poor conception genetics stay in my herd. Gone and gone. This cow may be a perfect fit for a fall calving buyer or one with better forages.
  2. 2. If a cow was bred and lost her calf sometime during the year and is open or bred back, i sell her. If she doesn’t bring a coupon (calf), she becomes the coupon.
This beautiful Corriente cow has made a lot of money for me, but she lost her calf this spring. She is bred back, starting to slip in condition, and is extremely old. She may have a difficult time making it through our harsh winter this year, so she can go to someone who may have a more gentle program. She has, until this spring, raised a big good calf for me for 12 years – she was middle aged when i bought her 12 years ago. She actually even carried an ET bull calf and raised it nicely. It’s tempting to keep her and let her die on the ranch and if she had a heifer calf at side i would do that.

3. Ornery is self explanatory. I used the same black Angus bulls for 3 years and one or more of them developed really bad attitudes. By the third year, i’d had enough and when i got them loaded out of the breeding pasture, I called the sale barn owner and asked i could just bring them up (there was a sale that day). Sold them (weighed up – i sure didn’t want anyone else have this problem) and so glad, but despite selecting my heifers very carefully for disposition, over the course of a couple years, some of them have become cranky. Now, i’m going to say, i’m much pickier on attitude than some people. I have 3 generations to work through.

4. As i wrote above, I will sell all my fancy, colored, cows with chrome – all euphemisms for being spotted or off colored. At the market, the quality of the animal is irrelevant if it is spotted. To quickly add value to the remaining calf crop is to just take my beating now and sell those beautiful cows and be done. 😦

5. If any cow had difficulty maintaining good body condition through the summer, she will also be sold. Even if she is bred back and/or has a good calf at side – eventually, she will come open. Selling her now at her peak.

6. Any cow with a dink calf (smaller or rougher haired than the other calves of the peer group) she will be sold with her calf. Usually, this happens with old cows, so they will be sorted off anyway – it’s just another mark against her.

Corriente Cows

As you know from reading my blog, i really like Corriente cows.  I’m nearly out of the purebred ones, but most of my replacements have a percentage of Corriente in them and that adds to the cross.  It’s a slim profit raising Corrientes unless you can find a niche market.  Also, they will not ‘finish’ like a beef cow, so are far too lean with next to no fat cover to make it profitable to butcher them.  (However, the meat is absolutely outstanding and that is pretty much all we butcher for ourselves.) So they remain relegated to entertainment (rodeo).

Anyway, a short article came out in the most recent edition of Working Ranch and I’d like to share it with you.

Shabbat Shalom!

tauna

 

 

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Fall Calving?

Heather Smith Thomas has written an interesting article for Progressive Cattle magazine entitled, “Fall Calving – Worth the Off-Season Plunge?“.  It’s worth a read for consideration, however, in my opinion, the answer is given in the question.  Seldom, if ever, doing anything off -season is smart or profitable.

The advantages listed in the article are straw man arguments, however, so if you are considering changes to your heard, be certain to talk to producers who can show you the real costs.

Advantages listed for fall calving:

  1. states that better prices for calves sold in the spring – this is true, but has nothing to do with fall calving.
  2. states that cows are on a better nutritional plane – not necessarily true since it depends on what they have been eating and the weather.  Missouri grasses and weather can have mighty thin cows by early fall.  Heat and humidity and toxic fescue play havoc with a body.  Inventory your location and resources before adapting.
  3. Row croppers are busy in spring (yes, they are) and so don’t have time to check cows.  This has nothing to do with fall calving.  Cows calve on their own.
  4. i think the issue on this is cold, muddy, health conditions.  This is largely, though not entirely, a producer making poor management decisions and can be issue no matter what season you have your cows calving in.
  5. Vaccinating/processing calves – there is no difference.
  6. Weaning calves in October when weather starts turning cold – why are you weaning just before winter?  Winter the calves with their mums.

Disadvantages listed for fall calving:

  1. more feed due to higher nutrient demands – yes, this is true, increased cost for feed and labor.
  2. lighter calves may be weaned in the spring – yes, this is true, and usually bring more dollars than heavy calves.

Wildlife have been working out the time for having babies for millennia, so mimicking their patterns is definitely worth a look since it is likely they go for the time of the year with the greatest survivability by now.  In the case of cattle, the closest animal type would be bison or buffalo in the Midwest, USA.  Most of the calves are born between the middle of April and end of May.  For this reason, I have chosen that same time frame for calving out my cows, and it works very nicely.  I seldom see a calf born and i haven’t assisted a cow in years.  That doesn’t mean every cow has no trouble or never gives birth to a dead calf, but even those times are extremely rare.  So, in my case, labor and labor costs are a nil.  Grass is coming on nicely, so the cows are in good condition and can feed themselves. (no labor)

So, while it’s a good article – you must do your own research.  As you see, i easily refute all the ‘advantages’ listed in the article of fall calving in my own operation and resource base.  I like to be profitable and fall calving simply doesn’t fill the bill.  (Disclaimer – my husband has a spring and fall calving herd and he likes it that way)

Another thing to remember when reading articles is that many producers call spring calving Dec through Feb/Mar.  That is the dead of winter!  Spring starts March 20.  Fall calving would mean starting September 20.  Make sure you clarify what people actually mean when these terms are bandied about.

Fall-calving cows

There are advantages and disadvantages to every calving season; producers need to figure out what works best for their own climate and management system.

Dr. George Barrington, Washington State University, says the advantages and disadvantages to fall calving are partly geographic, with regional and management differences. “Some producers in the Intermountain West have successful fall-calving programs, even though it might work best in a milder climate,” he says.

Advantages

The benefits of fall calving include a chance for better prices when fall-born calves are sold the next spring or summer. More people are spring-calving, with a larger supply of calves in the fall at weaning time, so the market generally drops. There is more demand for calves marketed in the spring.

Dr. Shelie Laflin has a mobile veterinary practice and helps run the family ranch and registered Angus herd near Olsburg, Kansas. Her family has both a spring- and fall-calving herd, and she prefers fall calving. “Several studies have shown that fall calving generally gives a better return for your investment. Cows tend to breed back sooner because they’ve been on a better nutritional plane through summer rather than having just come through winter before calving, and also tend to have less dystocia when they calve,” says Laflin.

Cows that come through cold during pregnancy tend to have heavier birthweight calves. “Cows that are pregnant in warm weather tend to have slightly smaller calves at birth – on average – and fewer dystocia cases compared to calves with the same genetics and management born in the spring,” says Laflin. “This means less labor needed, less stress on calves, healthier calves, with less scours and pneumonia, and fewer cases of mastitis in the cows.”

However, if cows are calving on mature grass pasture in the fall, calves sometimes get umbilical infections from grass awns getting up into the umbilical cord stump. “In the spring, umbilical infections are usually due to mud and dirty conditions,” she says.

There is no perfect situation. “From a management standpoint, however, from calving up until calves are about 2 months old, fall is hands down better than spring, especially in terms of illness.” By the time those calves are 2 months old, they are less vulnerable to some of the common diseases and can also withstand cold weather.

“Fall calving might mean from early or mid-September until late November,” says Barrington. “If producers are doing any farming, spring is usually a very busy time, and fall tends to have fewer demands on time and labor. Some producers in eastern Washington prefer fall calving because they also grow wheat. They are so busy in the spring that they can’t devote time to calving,” he says.

“We spend a lot of time treating calves for diarrhea in the spring – in wet, muddy confined areas. If weather does not allow producers to put the cows in larger, clean areas to calve, they are usually calving on the winter feeding area in contaminated conditions,” says Barrington. There are often better options in the fall for where the cows can calve.

“We calve fairly late in the fall,” says Laflin. “We are busy with haying until early September. There might be some producers harvesting crops in the fall – putting up the last of the hay and ready to start cutting corn or other crops. There might be overlap with harvesting and calving, but fieldwork overlap can also be a problem if a producer is calving in April/May,” she says.

“For us, the labor becomes a big factor. We are a family operation, and our kids play a big role in what we do. The labor involved in spring calving is just more intensive, trying to manage baby calves in cold weather. We feed the cows a lot through cold weather, and they tend to produce bigger calves and also make more milk than young calves can consume – which can lead to scours, mastitis, etc.”

Regarding vaccination, fall- and spring-calving herds are managed the same, but since there is less risk for scours in fall-calving cows, they may not need pre-calving vaccinations for scours. With fall calvers, this would be one less time those cows have to go down the chute. Those are late-gestation vaccinations, and most people would rather not stress their cows at that time if they don’t have to.

“From a bull management standpoint, there isn’t much difference, but the nice thing if you run two herds, is the opportunity to spread out your bull power and decrease your cost per calf,” says Laflin. Fewer bulls are needed because they can manage both breeding seasons with a period of rest in between.

Disadvantages

“Some of the disadvantages of fall calving in certain climates is that grass is maturing and going dormant,” says Barrington. “In the Southeast, however, there may be new growth of grass, and fall-calving cows have good nutrition.” At higher elevations and northern regions, fall rains might bring a brief flush of green grass, but dropping temperatures soon end the growing season. Cows generally must be fed through winter, and lactating cows have higher nutrient demands.

“We sometimes have lighter weaning weights with fall-born calves,” says Laflin. “Those calves are born at a time when we soon have to supplement the cows. Many fall-calving herds in our area start in September and are done by Thanksgiving, and by then, our native grasses are dry and dormant, and we need to supplement. There is an increased cost in feed, but several studies show that even with the increased cost, over the years, you will fare better with the fall calving compared with spring calving,” says Laflin.

“All of this must be penciled out, looking at the amount and quality of feed that will be needed,” says Barrington. “You lose all the advantages of fall calving if the cows aren’t producing milk or if it costs too much to feed them. Fall calves may also be a little lighter at weaning than spring-born calves because they went into winter soon after birth and require more feed for maintenance and body heat. Small calves are not yet ruminants, so they are not producing body heat from fermentation in the rumen.”  end mark

Heather Thomas is a freelance writer based in Idaho.

Determining which season to use

There is no perfect calving season. “Ranches with both a spring- and fall-calving herd have the best chance to weigh benefits and disadvantages for their own environment, management, labor availability and feed,” says Dr. George Barrington. They can compare, within their split herd, to see which season pencils out best when figuring feed costs, etc.

  • Weather is a big factor and it can be variable from year to year. “If someone wants to try fall calving, they should not base a decision on just one year’s experience. The more data you can get, the better decisions you can make,” says Barrington. The year you try fall calving might be really good or really bad – for weather, or calf prices, etc., but that year might not be typical.
  • Feed inputs are something to think about. “If you are buying most of your feed, it will cost more, especially if you need to push first-calf heifers nutritionally to get them to cycle back again,” says Dr. Shelie Laflin. “You’ll have to put some feed into them because your native grass is gone, dormant or snowed under, whereas in the spring, the grass is coming on lush, and this will flush the cows for cycling.”Cows grazing new green growth breed better, and a person might not have to buy as much feed. However, you are also feeding calves through winter until weaning in April. In a spring-calving herd, you are only feeding cows through winter, rather than pairs.
  • Health: On the other hand, wintering calves with their mothers has some advantages. They tend to stay healthier through winter than calves weaned in late fall just before going into winter.  We run fall and spring calves – about half and half – and our fall calves have fewer problems. There is less labor involved, and the calves wean off better. We don’t have to deal with disease at weaning time; they’ve already come through winter.” By contrast, the spring-born calves are weaned in October, and it’s starting to get cold, and weather can be bad.

Genetics and Selection

There are very few reasons for mobs of livestock to have access to ponds beyond and emergency drinking water access. My reason here is that these heifers needed to be separated from the main cow herd for the 45 day breeding season and the only paddock I have does not have shade or even a high point to catch a breeze such as the pond dam where the heifers in the second photo are standing.

Ideally, allotting short term adequate shaded space is the optimal.  Video below shows comfortable cows and calves.

In many cases, cattle not selected for heat tolerance will immerse themselves in a pond for relief. The flip side is that oftentimes these cattle will tolerate severe cold better than the others. We can spend decades selecting for the genetics which thrive in each of our unique environments and management. Hopefully also providing a quality eating experience for the consumer.

This is a jarring photo and i hesitate to post it, but reality is, we don’t live in a perfect world and sometimes we make do until improvements can be made.  These purebred Angus heifers can’t tolerate much heat and humidity and stand in the pond. Not healthy for the pond or the cattle.

These heifers have up to 50% genetically selected heat tolerant breeds of either Longhorn or Corriente crossed with black or red Angus. Clearly more comfortable in Missouri heat and humidity.

Calving, Lambing, Kidding

Many proclaimed experts, farmers, and ranchers alike are confused about what season it is.  ‘Spring’ calving to many means January, February, and a bit into March.  NEWS FLASH! – that is NOT spring – that is winter calving in no uncertain terms and terribly hard on livestock and people (in the northern hemisphere) caring for them.  Outdoor winter calving, lambing, kidding has been described by bold people as animal abuse!

Now before you think me a ‘Bertha-better-than-you,’ please know that we used to do this very thing!  It is the status quo in ranching circles.  We’ve been calving in sync with nature now for nearly 20 years and life is much better and profitable for all.

Nitpick your own operation and life – identify elephants in the room – stop digging a hole and solve the problem with simple solutions.  The key word here is SIMPLE!

Consider this recent article (from BEEF online) on how to warm up a calf:

Cold stressed calvesAleMoraes244 / ThinkStock

Re-warming methods for cold-stressed calves

Newborn calves that have been exposed to exceedingly cold temperatures may become hypothermic or at least extremely stressed. What’s the quickest method to re-warm them?

Mar 29, 2018

By Donald Stotts

It’s been a winter that no matter where you are, you’d probably like to forget. Some parts of the country are warm and very, very dry. Good for calving, but not a promising start for spring and summer grazing.

Other parts of the country have been cold and wet. And with calving season underway for many, it’s worth reviewing re-warming methods for cold-stress calves, says Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension emeritus animal scientist.

Selk warns that newborn calves that are not found for several hours after birth and have been exposed to exceedingly cold temperatures may become hypothermic or at least extremely stressed. “A review of the scientific data on using a warm water bath to revive cold-stressed newborn calves bears repeating,” he said.

In a Canadian study, animal scientists compared methods of reviving hypothermic or cold-stressed baby calves. Heat production and rectal temperature were measured in 19 newborn calves during hypothermia and recovery when four different means of assistance were provided.

Hypothermia of 86 degrees F rectal temperature was induced by immersion in cold water. Calves were re-warmed in an air environment of 68 degrees to 77 degrees where thermal assistance was provided by added thermal insulation or by supplemental heat from infrared lamps. Other calves were re-warmed by immersion in 100-degree warm water. The normal rectal temperatures before the induction of cold stress were 103 degrees.

During recovery, the baby calves re-warmed with the added insulation and heat lamps had to use up more body heat metabolically than the calves re-warmed in warm water. Total heat production during recovery was nearly twice as great for the calves with added insulation and exposed to the heat lamps than for the calves placed in warm water.

“This type of body heat production leaves calves with less energy to maintain body temperature when returned to a cold environment,” Selk says.

By immersion of hypothermic calves in warm water, the study indicated that normal body temperature was regained most rapidly and with minimal metabolic effort.

“When immersing cold-stressed baby calves, do not forget to support the head above the water to avoid drowning the calf that you are trying to save,” Selk says. “Also make certain that they have been thoroughly dried before being returned to the cold weather and their mothers.”

Stotts is a communication specialist at Oklahoma State University