Tag Archives: calving

Thoughts on Heifer Development

I didn’t think i’d ever go back to calving out 2 year old heifers (exposing to the bull at 13-15 months) since calving out as 3 year olds is so incredibly stress free on the heifer and myself. A high percentage of 2 year olds will become pregnant and zero will need assistance at calving.

Since beginning total grazing and recognizing that i need to grow my herd numbers significantly and quickly (due to being understocked), i decided to take a chance last year with the 14 yearling heifers and have them bred alongside the main cow herd. As shared before, these heifers had a pregnancy rate of 76% (vs 90% + as 2 year olds) and one heifer died, along with her calf, at calving due to difficulty (front leg was back) and another heifer had her calf fine, but it was dead (don’t know why).

It will be interesting to see how many of those will breed back this year. However, I have discovered that those which calve first time as 3 year olds don’t breed back at much higher, if any, rate as the 2 year olds. I don’t know why, but that has been my experience.

This year, to hopefully avoid more calving difficulties, I have kept the 21 yearling heifers separate from the main cow mob and they are joined with a 2 year old 1/4 Corriente x 3/4 Red Angus bull out of one of my good adapted cows (#433) and a 1/2 Corriente x 1/2 Red or Black Angus yearling bull out of my good purebred 21 year old Corriente cow (#160). This should eliminate any calving difficulties but will reduce the value of each calf because of the Corriente influence. This should be less of a hit than dead heifers, calves, and/or having to assist.

After, the bulls are removed from both the cow mob and the heifer mob, the two groups will be put together into one group for grazing through the winter.

Another thing i may do is wean the calves off the first calf heifers and feed the weaners through the winter allowing the heifer to rebuild body condition better for her next calving event. Haven’t decided on that yet. Sounds like work.

Considerations:

Pros for calving at 2 years

  1. selecting most fertile stock
  2. entering production a year earlier
  3. open heifers can be kept for trying again the next year or selling as grassfinished beeves.

Cons for calving at 2 years

  1. keeping a separate mob before and during breeding season
  2. possibly having to wean/feed calves
  3. increased incident of calving difficulties

Farming and ranching are dynamic businesses requiring flexibility, creative planning, and constant learning. The ability to identify a problem is a must as is adjusting the plan and expectations to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. Finding and purchasing cattle to graze and perform in a managed grazing (in my case now total grazing) is next to impossible. Growing the herd size with your own adapted animals is a slow process, but has shown itself to be the better answer for me in all animal groups; heifers, bulls, and cows.

Shabbat Shalom!

001 is not the fanciest bull in the land, but this 2 year old has shown himself prolific as a yearling, sound on his feet, and clear eyes. He is out of now 8 year old cow who has been a consistent producer. He is quiet and easy to handle. He is 1/4 Corriente and 3/4 Red Angus.
This yearling bull seems to be whispering sweet nothings in this heifer’s ear!
Here’s theyearling bull i chose to join with the 2 year old bull. Although it’s likely the 2 year old can easily service 21 heifers, I’ve had a bad experience having only one bull with a mob – they ALL came up open (not pregnant) That was a very expensive mistake. This 102 bull is also home raised and not fancy, but out of my 21 year old purebred Corriente cow – so adaptation, longevity, and soundness are built in. He is also clear eyed, slick hided, of good disposition, and healthy from birth. He is 1/2 Corriente and 1/2 Red or Black Angus (his coloring makes it tricky to call). His mum is solid red.

Spring Grazing Observations

As blogged before, since changing to Real Wealth Ranching protocol which not only teaches a change in grazing management, but includes other changes which i believe will make my life easier as well as being more profitable all the while building soil, forage, and animal health.

One of the main precepts of any grazing management is observation of stock condition. If the livestock are suffering under your management, you must change something immediately. Daily or, at least often, observation of body condition, manure consistency, thriftiness, and overall general health including appropriate hair shedding, bright eyes, well hydrated, being alert, calm cud chewing, not bawling or wandering, and ears up demeanor are a few subtle clues to health.

For good reason, up until this year, i’ve set my calving season from 15 April to 31 May. For me, personally, that is not a good time because breeding season is 7 July to 20 Aug and 100% of the time, mid August to late September is high ragweed season which is debillitating to me making it nearly impossible to remove the bulls to keep defined dates for calving season.

However, this year (2022), i’m pushing that back to 15 May thru 30 June, With the change to total grazing and by default and plan i am offering a better balance protein/roughage diet to both cows and calves and hope to avoid the serious scours (calf losses about 30% for a couple years running!) encounter by earlier calving. However, calving that early in north central Missouri has its downsides in that it often can be extremely cold and muddy, plus cows will not be in best condition coming out of winter before calving.

Pushing it back a month means I avoid the beginning and ending of ragweed season. The animals need to be nearly set stocked during that time because i cannot be outside.

However, the final decision was to turn out the bulls on 22 July and will plan a 60 day breeding season. Most will likely breed in the first 35-40 days anyway, but the few which are later may allow me to grow my herd a bit. This is a calving season of 1 May to 1 July. However, the bigger benefit will be that removing the bulls will be after allergy season. By keeping my own replacements, there is a much greater chance of success by having adapted animals to my particular environment. Purchasing stock is a crapshoot at best.

As calving season has come along this spring (2022), I’ve really enjoyed noticing the HUGE difference in condition of cows which calved early/mid April and those few which have calved mid May. Any cow which calved early is very slow to recover from calving and has not shedded out well at all. Will that affect rebreeding? In the past, it has not, but the cows sure look better and are carrying much more weight.

One thing that has given me considerable concern is the number of open cows this spring that were pregnancy checked as being bred last fall. Young cows and really good 8 and 9 year olds have lost. In other words, it’s not been any particular age group or any specific bloodlines. Still pouring over records to see what might have caused this. It was about 5% abortion/fetal loss last year which the vets say is on the upper limits of normal. This year’s percentage is hovering around 7% abortion/fetal loss. This despite giving my cows a Lepto shot last fall, which is not what i usually do. However, a couple of those are purchased cows/heifers which are often not adapted to my environment.

The typical death loss of 1% to 2% sadly hit that upper percentage point this year to some sort of chronic wasting disease, most likely anaplasmosis. Seems like it hits my 3-6 year old good doing cows. Unfortunately, this seems to be just a part of raising livestock.

I’m continuing the Real Wealth Ranching protocol and total grazing plan because it has been an amazing program. Coming up on my second full year of implementation here in a few months. I tell people all i’m doing is providing landscaping tools and my cows do the work (grazing). Well, they don’t run the chainsaw.

Mud, Mud, Mud

The past 5-6 years, the weather has quite deviated from the norm, but this year is more its irritating self. With frequent, yet light rains, drizzles, and cloudy weather resulting in constant mud, even on top of the ridges – there’s not a dry or even well drained spot on my farm. Pugging is everywhere, though thankfully, i don’t have large cows, so damage is mitigated by less animal weight per square inch.

This year is the first year in implementing the ‘no molestar’ (do not bother) concept of not shifting cows and calves to new paddocks during calving season. This has been a real blessing, however, given the mud and misery this year, the cows have trampled their large paddock and from the looks of it have wasted at least 50% of their forage mostly by walking around and trampling into the mud. This has forced me to move them to another paddock which is just as wet and muddy, but with thick forage. They will destroy it rapidly as well. Very thankful that through total grazing, there is plenty of reserve forage for the cows. The concept of not bothering the calving cows was interrupted and i had to find and pack and haul and drive a few calves – i think one has been abandoned – this is precisely why the pairs should be left alone during the important bonding time.

Gateways are becoming quite a mess with both cow foot traffic and Gator traffic

The continued cold, cloudy, and wet weather is taking its toll on the cows’ conditions and that of their calves, though it is most noticeable on those yearling first calf heifers and the really old cows.

Despite the rain, work continues as much as possible to avoid getting completely behind though there are many many jobs which must wait for warmer and much drier weather. Next week is supposed to warm up and not rain. Really looking forward to some warmth and especially sunshine.

Pugging is absolutely on every square inch of the paddock.
Forcing them to eat the brown and the green is keeping manure in pretty good shape, but the weather and ground conditions are taking the toll on animal condition. Plus they are very unhappy and unsatisfied – i’m not sure why except there’s been no sun and no place dry to lie down for a couple weeks. That would make me cranky, too.

Pregnancy Check 2021

For decades, we’ve always had the veterinarian palpate our cows for chute-side determination of pregnancy. This year, i decided to try blood testing, so i contacted our veterinarian and asked him about the process. He said he’d never done that for an entire herd, but has used the process for individual animals.

There are some reasons for the change, primarily because i thought it would be less stressful for the cow and the vet and i think that is an important issue. If there is opportunity to reduce stress and physical labor, then the option should be explored – especially as we ranchers, farmers, veterinarians, and others are getting old. We break more easily, don’t move as fast, and get tired more quickly.

Pregnancy Tips from Beef Magazine

My cows and especially yearling heifers are smaller frame than many owners’ and the rectum is just not large enough to comfortably accommodate a big arm. Damage to fetus, rectum, and vet’s arm is more likely.

In just a few days, the results were ready and my vet’s office sent them to me via e-mail. The results: (i was very well pleased – especially since 3 of 4 bulls went bad at some point during the breeding season!) Overall, the pregnancy rate was 93% bred not counting 6 first calf heifers i bought (5 were open!). They did milk pretty heavy and are not adapted to managed grazing, so giving them a pass and will keep them another year.

  • Yearling heifers (born in 2020) – 73% bred
  • 2 year olds bred for the first time – 100% bred
  • 3 year-olds – 85% bred
  • 4 year-olds – 87% bred
  • 5 year-olds – 85% bred
  • 6 year-olds – 80% bred
  • 7 year-olds – 100% bred
  • 8 year-olds – 100% bred
  • 10 year-old – 100% bred
  • 20 year-old – 100% bred

After the work, receiving the bill and test information, followed by a chat with my veterinarian, i came away with the following points:

  • Blood testing is similar in accuracy as palpating
  • Blood testing is a bit more than twice as costly to implement
  • For the veterinarian, there is about the same work, but is far less physically demanding
  • Palpating allows chute side call and decision making based on pregnancy check – blood testing takes a few days
  • Palpating at 50-60 days can cause embryonic death due to a fragile time for the fetus. Blood testing would not cause this.
  • Blood testing is far less uncomfortable to smaller framed cows and young heifers.
  • Cows palpated around 4 months pregnant have a higher incident of being called ‘open.’
  • Blood testing takes about the same amount of time in the chute as palpating.

The actual out of pocket cost for blood testing was:

  • Veterinarian charge – $3/head
  • Blood testing – $4.50/head
  • Shipping/Processing – $ .60/head

By Comparison, only the $3/head would be charged for palpating. So, what will i do next year? i haven’t decided, but it could be a combination of blood testing the small/medium frame cows and the 2 and 3 year old heifers/cows, then palpating the remaining. This would greatly reduce cost but would require sorting the cows into two groups before pregnancy check. Is that extra labor worth the savings over just blood testing all?

Here are my new thoughts on processing my cows and calves going forward, but will discuss with my veterinarian to see if it is reasonable. My biggest concern is changing to dates in the winter – our winters can be unreasonable cold and miserable, but usually there are a few days which are nice.

  • 6 August – 20 September – Breeding season
  • 15 May – 30 June – calving season
  • Mid November-Vaccinate calves and preg check dry cows. Hold bull calves in pen to pair up, then wean them.
  • Mid March – Preg check 3 years and older cows i plan to keep (maybe?)- no need to preg check first calf heifers since i would hold them over if open anyway. WEAN CALVES.
  • Any cows which have developed a bad attitude or other reason for culling no need to preg check – they’ll need checking at sale barn.

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.

Profitable Ranch Strategies

Although Jim’s article in On Pasture is specifically geared towards livestock/pasture management, the principles can easily be applied to any business.

Kick the Hay Habit – Jim Gerrish’s Tips for Getting Started

By   /  September 17, 2018  /  No Comments

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This week’s Classic by NatGLC is from Jim Gerrish. Jim will be speaking about Grazing Lands Economics at the National Grazing Lands Conference in Reno in December, so we thought you’d like to have an idea of what he might cover. Jim is one of over over 50 producers who will be part of the conference talking about innovative grazing management. We hope you’ll join us! Register before October 16 to get the reduced rate of $395, and bring a friend or spouse with you for just $175 more.

Hay feeding still ranks as one of the top costs of being in the cow-calf business in the U.S. The good news is we do see more and more livestock producers ‘Kicking the Hay Habit’ with each passing year. There is much more to kicking the habit than just deciding one day that you’re not going to feed any more hay. It usually takes several management changes to get there.

Here are what I am seeing as the top five moves for getting out of the hay feeding rut.

1. Have a plan for year-around grazing.

This doesn’t mean just hoping you have some grass left over in the fall to use during winter. It means making a critical evaluation of all of your forage resources and mapping out when they can be used most optimally. Develop a calendar of when your stock are going to have their highest and lowest demands. As an industry we have given a lot of lip service to matching forage and animal resources, but the majority of ranchers still do a pretty poor job of implementing a sound plan.

2. Change your calving season to a less demanding time of year.

It is much easier to graze a dry, pregnant cow through the winter than a lactating mama. For many of today’s moderate to high milk producing beef cows, daily forage demand at peak lactation is 50-80% higher than when she is at dry, pregnant maintenance. Late spring or early summer calving seasons work well in a lot of ranch country once you change your mind about a few things. I’ve met very few ranchers who switched to later calving who ever went back to winter calving.

3. Make sure your cattle match your environment and climatic conditions.

You really want your cattle to survive and thrive on the native resources of your ranch. The more petroleum and iron you put between the sun’s solar energy and your cow’s belly, the less profitable you are likely to be. Cattle should be able to earn their own living. You shouldn’t have to earn it for them. Consider every head of cattle on your place to be a ranch employee. Your primary job as manager is to create a working environment for your employees to do their job.

4. Manage all of your pasture and rangeland more intensively.

CP snow grazing Oct 26This does not mean graze it more intensively, this means manage it more intensively. If you do, you will get more forage production and greater carrying capacity from your land. Simply rationing out what you are already growing is one of the easiest places to pick up more grazing days from every acre. One of the strongest arguments I can make for Management-intensive Grazing (MiG) in the summertime is to create more winter pasture opportunities.

5. Change range use from summer grazing to winter grazing.

In most environments with degraded rangeland, switching to predominantly winter use is a great strategy for improving range condition. Many public lands offices are very willing to work with ranchers on this kind of positive change. We do see some agency offices and employees who drag their feet on making any kind of change, but most are willing to work with you if you have a grazing plan that will help them meet their conservation goals.

IMG_9954You may not need to make all these changes in your operation. It depends on where you are right now and where you want to end up being. While some operations go cold turkey and try to make the entire shift in a single year, it may be easier to make the transition over 3 or 4 years. You will take some learning and adjustments to get comfortable with the new approach. Your livestock will also need to adapt to the new management regime.

Most beef herds in the US and Canada are made up of cows that are too big and have too much milking ability to live within the resource capability of the land base. Winter grazing is a lot easier with the proper type of cow on your place. Making the switch in calving season might be as easy as just holding the bulls out for a couple extra months. Changing cow type to a more moderate framed and lower milk producing animal will take quite a bit longer.

The key point is to have a plan for making the transition with a clear target of where you want to go.

Thanks to the On Pasture readers providing financial support.

Can you chip in? To be sustainable, we need a $15,000 match from readers to make our grant happen this year. If it’s an option for you, consider becoming an “Ongoing Supporter” at just $5/month. Being able to show that kind of support is especially helpful when we’re approaching outside funders.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jim Gerrish is the author of “Management-Intensive Grazing: The Grassroots of Grass Farming” and “Kick the Hay Habit: A Practical Guide to Year-around Grazing” and is a popular speaker at conferences around the world. His company, American GrazingLands Services LLC is dedicated to improving the health and sustainable productivity of grazing lands around the world through the use of Management-intensive Grazing practices. They work with small farms, large ranches, government agencies and NGO’s to promote economically and environmentally sustainable grazing operations and believe healthy farms and ranches are the basis of healthy communities and healthy consumers. Visit their website to find out more about their consulting services and grazing management tools, including electric fencing, stock water systems, forage seed, and other management tools.

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