Developing a fall calving herd can be challenging, but it can also provide opportunity.
Putting a plan in place should be the first step, says Patrick Wall, Extension beef specialist with Iowa State University based in southern Iowa.
“Fall calving means something different to most people,” he says. “For some, that means calving in August. For others, it means calving in November.”
There are advantages to both, Wall says. Calving in August or early September requires access to shade and could also mean trouble with flies.
“You won’t have to worry about those in November,” he says.
Feeding programs will also need to be altered for fall calving. Wall says winter feeding will require more than just hay.
“Those cows are lactating in the dead of winter,” he says. “They’re using a lot of energy to stay warm and grow a calf.”
Re-breeding in the winter is also more of a challenge for a fall-calving herd, Wall says.
He says calf birth weights are likely to be smaller for calves born in August or September. The cow is not pumping as much blood to stay warm in the summer so unborn calves are not gaining as much weight.
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An obvious advantage to fall calving is nicer weather. Wall says calves can be born on a pasture, making it cleaner and less prone to issues with scours.
Fall-calving cows will also have access to green grass prior to calving, he says, adding calves born in the fall can help more with spring grazing.
“You’ll be able to do a better job of staying ahead of rapid grass growth,” Wall says.
Attention also need to be paid to the bulls, says Julie Walker, Extension beef specialist with South Dakota State University. Bulls will be working in the winter when conditions are slippery.
“You may be breeding on frozen ground, which means frozen clumps and a slippery surface,” she says. “Those conditions are right for a bull injury.”
Smaller calves could also have to deal with brutal winter conditions, which increases the risk of respiratory disease, Walker says. Good nutrition is going to be even more important, she adds.
But there are opportunities with fall calving. Walker says it allows a producer to split up a herd and spread out the workload.
There are also different marketing opportunities for calves weaned out of a fall calving herd, she says.
“You will be selling calves into that peak summer market,” Walker says.
Fall calving also offers good marketing opportunities for seedstock producers.
“You will be selling that bull at 18 months of age instead of a yearling,” Wall says. “A more mature bull is going to be able to cover more cows. That’s a nice advantage for the seedstock producer who calves in the fall.”