Fall Herds

October 20, 2016 

Markets fluctuate and producers must adjust.  But, adjusting doesn’t mean destroying your business model.  When we were in the restaurant business, we watched very successful companies make the mistake of cutting too much.  The easy things to cut were, reduce staff and watch service go down hill.  Cut portions,  and food quality and customers simply don’t come back.  In some cases the cleaning staff was reduced to the point the local health department would close a restaurant.

If you need to put off buying a new rake until another time, that’s one thing.  But, stopping your vaccination program, eliminating your mineral program or cutting back on hay to save a few dollars will come back to haunt you.  Instead of knee-jerk reactions, look at ways to reduce waste.

For example, don’t over fill the hay feeder so you don’t have to put out hay as often.  Improving your hay storage will save a significant amount of hay.  Years ago my brother-in-law told me studies showed a 20-25% savings on good quality hay if it was stored inside. That didn’t seem possible until we started putting our hay in barns, and now I agree with him and the studies. We have a ramshackle old lean-to on a knoll in the woods that we use for storage. So it doesn’t have to be fancy.

Could you do a better job of grazing? Does your mineral feeder work well in wet conditions or do you waste 15% because it has no top?  When vaccinating, do you have the Vet do your vaccinations or do you?   Vaccinations usually come in 5, 10 or 50 doses.  One 10-dose is generally less expensive than two 5-dose units. 

Low performance herds have lower return on investments. Don’t skimp on your Genetics.  Why would you want to wean 450 lb. calves instead of 550 lb. calves if your fixed cost are the same?  This soft market is the most economical time to improve your herd genetics.  Heifers are a bargain for producers that take a long-term view.  Be sure to buy bred heifers that have been verified by a third party.  The sire also needs to have low birth weight  (BW) and good Calving Ease (CE). 

Fall calving is becoming more popular, depending on your geographical location.  Many producers want to get away from early spring mud and cold weather. Ten years ago, about 5% of our buyers were calving in the fall. Now about 25% are calving in September-October.  Since we do both, our view point may surprise you. Lets look at the benefits of both.

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Spring Calving:  Our calving season for Spring is usually about 45 days.  We plan for our first calf about March 1.  By April 15 we are generally finished calving, and the grass is ready for the cows and calves.  Once they are on a clean pasture, any sickness caused by confinement seems to go away.  Rate of gain is almost always better for the spring calving herd.  Grazing animals just do better on good pasture.  When cows are grazing, they are also exercising and staying in better shape.  Generally there are more opportunities to sell calves that are weaned in the fall.

Fall Calving:  Our calving season for Fall is usually about 30 days because we always have better conception rates.  We believe this is because they are being bred in cool weather, right after Thanksgiving.  Calving starts about September 1.  We have almost no sickness in fall calving, since the cows calve on clean dry  pastures. In March we have had -15 degree nights, snow, mud and rain which requires calving in the barn or corral.  Calf weights are lighter in the Fall, so there are far fewer calving problems or death loss.

Our pastures usually still have some grazing until late October and sometimes as late as November. Then we move cows to our sacrifice bluegrass pasture with feeding pads of concrete surrounded by geotextile covered stone. This is also a great time to take advantage of grazing your fescue pastures. Good quality hay is much more important with fall calving.  If we had our choice, we would only do Fall calving.  It just makes life easier.

Fall Yearling Bulls are ready for delivery.  The great pasture this summer has been very beneficial to rate of gain.  The group has some of the best yearling weights we have seen on our fall calving groups.  These bulls have the highest Heifer Pregnancy (HP) EPD ever achieved — in the top 3% of Angus Bulls.  When prices are lower, every pregnancy can make the difference between profit or loss.

For Fall Calving herds, you need to be doing Breeding Soundness Exams on your bulls right now. The expense far out weighs the risk of going into a breeding season with a bull that can’t do the job.   Finding open cows next spring is a cost you cannot afford.  I have several analogies to persuade you:

  1. Why would you check the oil in your truck? It’s never been empty before.
  2. Why would you have insurance? You’ve never had a house burn down before.
  3. Why would you lock your car? You’ve never had one stolen before.

Every calf counts in today’s’ market.