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.
Pros for calving at 2 years
selecting most fertile stock
entering production a year earlier
open heifers can be kept for trying again the next year or selling as grassfinished beeves.
Cons for calving at 2 years
keeping a separate mob before and during breeding season
possibly having to wean/feed calves
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.
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.
Having just returned from a 3-week sojourn visiting friends through Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas, there is very serious and visible evidence of continued drought in those areas. Fire danger is pegged at super high. Without rain soon, pastures will struggle to start their normal growth. Whatever ‘normal’ is anymore.
As the short, cold, blustery, gloomy days of winter slowly lengthen towards spring with renewed growth and opportunity, it’s a good time to review the past year(s) and plan to overcome mistakes and explore new pathways towards better land stewardship, animal husbandry, and profitability. Creating harmony is a good goal, so finding ways to accomplish that will mean different paths to each person and will include others and the season of our lives.
For this moment, I want to consider the very real possibility of severe drought and have a plan in place before it might arrive. How can my ranch harmonize profitability, animal welfare, and land improvement if drought becomes a reality.
In our area of north central Missouri, the ‘normal’ time to begin stockpiling forages for winter grazing is about August 10. However, for the past 5 consecutive years, those late summer/early fall rains have been nonexistent. This is entirely why I sold about 33% of my cow herd in the fall of 2020 because of my grazing protocol for the past 30 years I had no stockpile and was looking at another winter of feeding hay. No more I decided, so I sold any cow that had no calf at side and any pair which was not replacement quality calf regardless of age or condition. Additionally, even though it was hard for me (because I like colorful cows), I sold any cow with ‘chrome’ even if she was a good producer. Colorful calves are heavily docked in price in our area regardless of quality.
That was my ‘drought’ plan for that winter even though we really were not in a period of low rainfall; the rains are just not coming at the time needed. Shortly after that, Jaime Elizondo appeared in my view again, this time via Instagram, so I e-mailed him and asked him what in the world he was talking about! I took his courses and am a monthly subscriber to ongoing education (Fat Wallet Rancher) – game changer! Within weeks, I now realized my managed grazing program was creating my ‘drought.’
Although, even with having found a few head of cows or heifers to increase mob numbers, I’m seriously understocked. However, referring back to my trip and the talk of the experts, it could be that Missouri may experience real drought this year (2022). Time will tell.
The point of sharing these thoughts is perhaps to remind myself of a good way to address the unknown and be prepared. For sure, no one knows if we will have a drought. It is somewhat dry in our area now, but subsoil moisture is good and ponds are full. But if one is uncomfortable going into the season fully stocked, then make changes now if livestock prices are good. And that they are.
Sell any and ALL cows without a calf – immediately
Sell any bred cow with or without a calf at side if she doesn’t have a replacement quality calf
Sell any cow – open or bred – who has missed having a calf at any time in her past
Sell steers of any weight which are in demand
Sell heifers of any weight which are in demand and you don’t plan to keep as replacements
Maybe go through your bull battery and see if there are old bulls that need selling. Be careful here until after semen check to be certain you have enough adapted bulls for your own herd.
Anything with a flighty or dangerous attitude goes immediately.
Making sure you are calving in sync with nature will be one of the biggest changes you can make to become more profitable, though it’s not the only easy management change you can implement to address drought situations.
Some of our cows may not be good cows – how do I justify selling them to someone else? Oftentimes, if I have a known poor producer (which thankfully I no longer have – but it takes drastic purging to get to that point), or one which has developed a flighty or dangerous disposition, I speak up at the sale. But most will be fine in a more traditional herd. I push my animals to perform in mob grazing, total grazing, and a very short breeding season.
Bottom line is to ask one’s self – if I can’t make money with this cow or worse, she is costing me money, how can I possibly think that simply having another calf to sell is a good thing? NO! Even if you go through a time of low inventory and not many calves to sell – it is far better to not have the expense of an unproductive ‘factory.’ Sell it into a situation in which she may perform. She is simply not adapted to our farm and management and probably never will be.
Perhaps you will need to find a side gig or off farm job to make up the difference for a few years, but when those replacement heifers and possibly home raised bulls out of the very best cows you have start to build in numbers, you will be SO far ahead of the game. However, that will also affect your cash flow until those heifers start producing. Cow/Calf production is a long-term game. Be prepared.
As far as the possibility of a drought, this also leaves you in a position to be very low on numbers. If you have been diligent and don’t have any of the cows mentioned in the sell list, then it will be harder to part with some. Maybe wean early (sell the cows) and keep their replacement calves – they won’t eat as much – yet you will still be keeping your best adapted genetics. Depending on the cost, one may consider shipping the stock to a place where custom grazing is available.
There are times in some areas with years of extended drought – if those are normal, perhaps livestock is not the right use of the land in that climate. Or maybe just a certain class of livestock will work. However, in north Missouri, droughts are usually short duration and/or are of our own making. I remember my grandpa telling of a time in the 1950s in which they cut down trees to feed the cows, but am thinking that works well but only for short term.
In Missouri on primarily cool season forages, we typically experience a ‘summer slump’ in which heat and humidity and no rains result in little to no growth in forages in the middle of the summer. This is not drought, but an annual event which can be planned for. Utilizing total grazing techniques can prepare you for this slump by having ample forage for grazing until the cool season grasses start growing again when temperatures start cooling in the fall.
Goodness, it’s been a long time since giving an update. I’ve since verbally shared my experiences with those who are interested and have contacted me. Here’s a current synopsis of my thoughts and changes.
After attending the summer of 1994 3-day grazing school at FSRC, Linneus, MO, I began implementing Management-Intensive Grazing in earnest and, initially, amazing results in increased forage and healthier animals emerged: we were very successful, but then, in my opinion, after a few years, we’ve been going backwards to the point of feeding hay again and watching desirable forage species disappearing. I just figured that I was not following the protocol well enough to be as successful as so many others seem to be. For years i’ve watched my cows selectively graze in large (20 acres or less) paddocks as they shift through the 28 paddocks with soil or grasses not improving, but I’m working harder and my herd needed downsizing as grazing improvements were disappearing! The smaller paddocks do help some, but the infrastructure cost (initial and maintenance) is not offset in the long run because signs of continuous grazing eventually return.
This is not to recommend throwing all that I’ve learnt out the window about managed grazing, but it’s past time that changes are made to move in a different direction. For example, in our north Missouri, USA climate, and during the growing season, 3 days is the limit on a paddock before regrowth will begin. Cows must not have access to that regrowth! Manage for that.
Paddock changes – moving fences to a more user-friendly manner so as to more easily implement 4x daily movements. By and large, for me, this means 20ish acre rectangular paddocks about 650 feet across the narrow bit. Life is not perfect –but that is the ideal – do your best to balance with your topography and watering points.
Eliminated whole farm fence energizing. As portable electric fencing products become more powerful, I feel it is prudent to upgrade and shift to be more flexible and reduce labor. By using the 1X portable energizer I found from Powerflex fence and only energizing that part of the fence containing the cattle, there is more shock to the cattle if they touch it and I don’t have to track down ‘shorts’ in 10 miles of electric wire thereby drastically increasing effectiveness and labor. The admonishment of keep all the fence hot to burn through forage and keep deer from knocking it down or breaking it, is simply not a thing on my farm. Forage growth is too great in my situation, largely due to two wire paddocks (the bottom wire is often in the grass) and the use of hi-tensile electrified woven wire on the perimeter. Unless I use burn down chemical under it, there is no way to keep it from putting a very heavy load on that fence. And, no, the deer never learn to respect an electric fence.
Water – use creative thinking to eliminate the use of water lines and excess water tanks within reason. Balance the possibility of reduced grazing productivity with the cost of installing and maintaining water lines and tanks taken to the paddock. Remember, cows can walk and, my experience is that distance of up to ¼ mile will not cause the cows to mob the water tank, they simply come in small groups to water then go back to grazing. Cows may need to learn to do this – but most are quick learners. I also use 1 foot tall, 8 feet diameter tanks to allow even the youngest calves to drink and not run the risk of being trapped or drowned in the tanks. Another point I’d like to recommend is to not rely on pumps and electricity – the most reliable is a tank, properly set, with shut off (relying on gravity) below a deep, clean pond. In other environments (soil and weather), allowing managed and limited access directly to a pond may be even more reliable.
Winter stockpile management – begin stockpiling well managed previous year’s paddocks by never grazing from first frost until good grass in the spring on HALF of your farm. Once the cows come off the half that was grazed all summer, spring, and fall, then that starts the stockpile for the following winter. This full season growth allows the forages to develop deep roots and, in many cases, go to seed and reproduce then begin fall growth until winter grazing, providing a nearly perfectly balanced diet for the beef cow of brown and green forages year round. This is completely different than beginning the stockpile growth period in early August and hope you get rains and good growing weather before frost to have enough to graze through the winter. (If my explanation makes no sense, consider signing up for Jaime Elizondo’s classes on Real Wealth ranching). Managing stockpile in this manner vs the traditional recommendation of clipping or grazing in early August then allowing it to grow for winter stockpile gives me a huge level of comfort in that I will know well in advance of winter how much grazing/food I have for my cows. These past 5 years, there has been high temperatures and next to no rainfall during that narrow window for critical growing. Yes, the longer/earlier starting growing season may result in lower quality, but not below the point of maintaining beef cattle. If supplementation with protein tubs or alfalfa hay is necessary, that is much easier than substitute feeding with grass hay. The traditional time frame of allowing grass to grow from August 10th results in high quality feed, but low quantity. What does that look like in north Missouri? Of course, it depends, but by and large, since my calving season will be 15 may for 45 days, then add 15 days or so for the last calves (if any) to really get mobile, I’ll want the cows to still be grazing green/brown stockpiled forage mix for best protein/carbohydrate mix and allowing spring growing grass to be at the proper level before grazing. Also, since during calving they will be set stocked, extra forage is needed to allow nonselective grazing. Grazing stockpile may begin sometime December or early January, then not return to those paddocks until May or June. These dates are not set in stone; flexibility and observation are key to proper herdsmanship and grazier success.
Breeding season/calving season changed– with very good reason, my cows calve 15 April – 30 May. This is a very good time in north Missouri, for me, my cows, and my resources. However, every year it’s a struggle for me to remove the bulls in late August because of my extreme ragweed allergies. Since learning from Jaime to not ‘molest’ the cows during calving season, this means I manage to have enough forages to set stock during those 45 days plus another 15 days (my choice) so that by that time, the calves are well bonded to the cows and will move with momma and not lay down to hide when it’s time to implement total grazing techniques. Before, I’ve always thought I had to move cows and calves during the calving and it is SO STRESSFUL to everyone, including me and invariably calves are left behind and die or abandoned as orphans. I never tag calves at birth or even soon after. It’s dangerous and unnecessary. Calves are tagged when given vaccinations, dehorned, castrated, and their mums pregnancy checked in October/November.
This year (2021), it is impossible for me to remove my bulls when I traditionally pull them out since heat, humidity, ragweed is off the charts and I’m too old (or maybe I finally got smart) but I’m not going to subject myself anymore to such pain. To give perspective, one year I came stumbling down the stairs into the basement to shower, with eyes swollen, red, itchy, wheezing and my young son remarking, ‘Mom, you are going to kill yourself! Stop!’ Another year, my husband was determined to take me to the emergency room, but I convinced him through hand motions ‘no’. I completely lose my voice when I’m overcome with the allergy. So, this year, the bulls will be in for 75 days, but I plan to change the breeding season to 5 Aug– 20 Sep. That last date will get me on the other side of ragweed season – still not out of it, but traditionally, it will be better. I do not like having calves born in June, however, it could be that with the different management as promoted by Jaime, I may not dislike it anymore. Time will tell. It can be incredibly hot first two weeks of June or it can be excessively cold and very wet in Missouri, but typically better than April (April calving was chosen because about 30% of my calves would die due to scours – sometimes no evidence of scours until they were dead!). In fact, choosing calving paddocks without a ditch will be less critical with June calving since mostly they will be dry anyway. Weather is a challenge regardless. Climate change? Yeah, that’s Missouri every year – one climate to another.
Exposing yearling heifers – this year I did it – for several years, I’ve only exposed heifers at 2 years not 1 and with good reason, my cows are a long way from my home so they cannot be observed or helped and it allows the animals to mature and puts less strain on their young body’s– I may totally regret exposing yearling heifers to the bulls vs exposing them as two-year-olds because I’ve done the math and it really is not much gain in my opinion to breed yearlings. However, I do have to have two mobs instead of one and that is a considerable cost. It is that expense (extra labor) that caused me to take a chance. Next year calving season (2022) will determine the future of this choice. On the front, it (keeping yearling heifers from joining) seems that one would only need a second mob for 45 days, however, that would mean mustering in all the cows and baby calves in the middle of the summer to sort off the yearling heifers before putting the bulls with the cows. That is really not a smart activity that time of year and there I go back to molesting cows with young calves. However, if I make a good plan and it’s not horribly hot and humid, it could be that the rotation will find them at the corral at a good time to sort off those younger heifers with little stress and perhaps another option of having them bred by my Corriente cross bulls. So many plans, so little time!
These are the major changes I’m making in the day-to- day operation of my cow herd. I’ve learnt a tremendous amount about observing gut fill, identifying healthy diet by the manure pat. Using nonselective grazing keeps me in contact with my cows and they have become practically pets! Not really, but they do seem to trust me more. My cows are already quiet, but being around them more and we start to ‘read’ each other. Much better manure distribution. With nonselective grazing, scrap trees and brush may be better eaten, but if not, at least more visible so that I can lop or chainsaw them off and treat the stumps – and spray the multiflora bushes. Though I only started total grazing last October and through the winter, those acres and have shown a massive increase in productivity. Incredibly, there may be up to 6000 lbs of growth per acre for the cows to graze this winter, which for my farm, is a shocker!
Eliminate hay feeding as substitutional feed and even as supplemental (major expense and huge labor)
One mob (labor saving, less fence repair, better forage utilization, longer rest period)
Avoid ragweed season (sweet!)
Don’t move calving cows (no more lost or abandoned calves)
More effectively clear brush and tree sprouts
Grow more palatable forage and increase soil productivity and health
Resulting in a larger mob, less labor per AU, more profitability
Before implementing a major change, try to find others who’ve already done it and get advice. Herculean effort and spending money are seldom the right answers.
Focus on what I really want to do and not use a shotgun approach as to stock raised and marketing efforts.
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!!!