The number of variables affecting profit on cattle ranches is staggering and many are circumstances we can do nothing about. The one issue cattlemen can realistically control is the starting date of calving, depending of course on who made the decision to begin breeding last spring, you or the bull.
Numbers of producers in our area (northeast Alberta) have evidently concluded that problems associated with winter calving do not adequately compensate them for their extra troubles. If net proceeds on later calves are close to winter born stock the incentive to rise every couple of hours in the dead of night at 30 below or more is considerably diminished.
Lactation is a significant nutritional burden for nurturing turn-of-the- year calves and extra winter cow feed has to be supplied accordingly. Failing that, thin cows can’t adequately sustain genetically potent offspring and potentially expensive creep feed becomes a necessity, creating a sharp spike in input costs with only hope of even nominal returns. Calves stunted during their first months of life will seldom grow as efficiently later as those well heeled from day one. There may be some “catch up” potential but that becomes an unreliable variant dependant on numbers of factors not necessarily reliably accessible.
Delaying calving by a couple of months from that January/February period, means they are that much closer to abundant free choice grass for crucial growth pattern setting openers. Warm weather and wide-open pastures significantly reduce the risk of scours and related illnesses spreading from calf to calf. We are less likely to have sheets of stress-inducing sleet wrapped around our calves in May than February and if such weather does occur it is of fleeting consequence.
Sealed teats can be a problem in cold weather, too. Since an udder is invariably engorged until a calf is large enough to nurse all teats equally, frost damage may not be recognized in a timely way. If a teat opening has been injured by frost and then sealed, mastitis possibilities loom larger than a full moon. Advanced mastitis is never on the wish list of things to happen to any animal.
Heated watering bowls are obviously a must in winter and slippery, sloping ice can build up as cows slobber and drip. If a cow is a few weeks from calving the odds of premature delivery can rise substantially if she inadvertently stumbles and falls on the built up mountain of ice.
It may be cool overnight in April but you are unlikely to lose a calf if cold is the only hazard. Breeders, who delay calving, can happily dispense with warming rooms or heated barns. Heating per se is not really the issue. The rub comes from having to clean and re-bed each pen a couple of times a day and herding the animal indoors
One area rancher, whose expertise I have the highest regard, tells me that taking all relevant factors into account, moving from early to late calving has increased his net returns by approximately $150 per calf. This, in broad figures, is approximately a 100 per cent increase in net over his former winter calving program. If he can (and I believe he does) in fact garner these returns he can run half the number of cows compared to conventional early calving and come out with equivalent margins. Fast math on his 200-plus cows isn’t that hard to do.
Cost of added feed, labour, bedding, health care (drugs, vet services), heating, power, equipment operation, calf mortality and frost damage clearly indicate early winter calving cannot be justified in all instances. Contrary arguments can reasonably be made with regard to direct dollar accounts, but if we throw simple convenience into the mix the scale most definitely favours later breeding.
Walking out on pasture in the morning checking cows is one thing. Creeping along in the dark dead of night at 30 below flashlight in hand doing the same thing is another world entirely.
Sometimes we guess right and sometimes wrong. But on a certain date in late spring or early summer someone has to open the gate to the bull pen and we begin anew.
StanHarderisamostlyretiredAngusbreeder livingatSt.Brides,Alta.Youcanemailhimat: [email protected]