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Calving Season Woes Start At Breeding

This last calving season has left us pondering how to tighten up our calving season without culling most of our late calvers. Culling might work for bigger herds, but this season went so long we would have to cull 75 per cent of our small herd to get a six-week calving season back.

A tight calving schedule isn’t just for convenience. I agree that night checks that go on for months are exhausting, but for us the economic factor of having calves not of a uniform size at shipping time is more of an issue. Balancing a lambing and kidding season on top of calving, means time is precious.

We discussed our problem with our vet while she was visiting to cast a calf’s broken leg and she said that a lot of people in our area had very slow calving seasons this year. At least we know we are not alone.

FIND THE PROBLEM

Years ago our vet told us that whatever is going wrong at calving can usually be solved by looking back nine months — breeding season. The exception to that rule would be aborted calves. For that circumstance they told us to go back a week to check for environmental input and have the fetus autopsied along with placental tissues to rule out disease factors.

When our calving season came to a screeching halt about two weeks in, we sat down and brainstormed. It isn’t easy to remember what happened a week ago never mind nine months ago but between all of us we came up with some potential problems. The first being that our bull had gotten a bit fat over the winter so when we were hand breeding he was doing all right but chasing cows around was a bit harder for him. The other factor was the mud. After some serious thought we remembered that last spring we were so muddy that we were getting cattle mired down in it. Our bull was having a very hard time with footing; that could explain our lack of calves.

To try and understand what was happening we referred to our last years calving book and cross-referenced them with the cows that had calved so far this year. I also took note of the calving dates. This information has told us that some of our cows, even though weather and environmental conditions were against them, have managed to back up from an end of April calving to an end of March calving.

We are also confident that the cows were in decent breeding shape due to the success of the hand breeding and our artificially bred cows having increased their conception rates. It appears that the changes we have made in our mineral and vitamin program have helped a lot. We haven’t had any retained placentas or hard calvings that can make a cow take longer to cycle back. We believe the root of our problem really seemed to come when our overly conditioned bull had to try and breed in a quagmire.

THE PLAN FOR 2010

What do we do to fix this for our 2010 breeding season? The first thing we did was not let our bull get overly conditioned. He is an exceptionally easy keeper. We have found that locking him in a small pen for the majority of the winter isn’t working. Instead, we left him with the cows till spring. There is the risk that cows still open in the fall could calve out of season, but we didn’t see any breeding happening until March. This is when we locked him up because we don’t want December calves. It is also recommended to have the bull checked for breeding soundness by a veterinarian prior to using him.

The other problem — muddy conditions — was a little bit harder to control. This has meant moving our feeding area to higher ground earlier in the year. In other words, before the cows churned up the ground, we moved their feeding area to solid ground. This also helped to keep their path to the water trough from becoming soupy.

Another management change we did this winter that unexpectedly helped was penning our goats so they had access to the heated waterer. In previous years we have used protein lick tubs for their water, filling them up at the beginning of chores and dumping them at the end before they froze. We just didn’t realize how much water we were adding to the spring melt by doing this from October to

April. Our alleyway where the cattle have to travel from their winter feeding area to the water is usually very much like quicksand and this year it is just wet. Not only did we save on chores, but I think we have also solved another part of our breeding issue.

Last year was also the first time that our cows weren’t with the bull for six weeks before they went to pasture. We usually make sure he has six weeks with all the cows but the mud was so bad we were scared he could get hurt if he tried breeding earlier than when we let him go. Our mistake was assuming that all the cows that calved early last year were bred for sure and sent them to pasture without a second covering. From what we can tell we may have a couple of open cows because of that but because we kept him with them all winter we aren’t sure when they were bred.

The plan for 2010 will be to pick a 2011 calving date that will allow us to keep him with the whole herd for six weeks prior to our usual June 1 pasture date. Then he will summer with the cows that calved the closest to going to pasture. If all of this doesn’t work then we will have to seriously consider culling. We just want to make sure we aren’t culling good cows for our mistakes.

Debbie Chikousky farms with her family in

Narcisse, Man. Visitors are always welcome.

Contact her at [email protected]

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