Fall calving fits Michigan’s climate for beef cow/calf herds

Calving cows in Michigan, during the months of September and October, frequently provides excellent environmental conditions for calf survival.

Calving cows in Michigan, during the months of September and October, frequently provides excellent environmental conditions for calf survival. Cows calving during autumn months are usually in excellent body condition during calving and breeding season and consequently have high calf weaning and pregnancy rates.

Calving beef cows during winter and spring months in Michigan’s climate frequently offers less than ideal weather conditions of cold, rain or snow, and includes soil conditions that are often cold, frozen or muddy. Michigan cow/calf producers that calve in the months of September and October experience more ideal temperatures and drier soil conditions with availability of high quality forages. Because of the more ideal conditions, fall born calves are often healthier than calves born through the winter and spring. Consumption of adequate quantities of high quality colostrum is critical for calves to obtain adequate colostral antibody transfer, regardless of when they are born. However, due to more mild temperatures during September and October, immediate colostrum consumption is not as important to ensure that calves do not lose critical body temperature and develop hypothermia.

Calves born in the fall also fit into alternative seasonal marketing opportunities of weaned calves. Fall born calves frequently will weigh about 450 pounds during the months of April and May which coincides traditionally with the highest feeder calf prices of the year. These calves are ideal for summer grazing and can be sold as yearlings at the conclusion of the grazing season. Fall born calves can be marketed as finished beef during the seasonally high fed cattle prices of April and May at 19 to 20 months of age. Generally stockers are finished in January to February.

Certainly calving during the fall can offer management challenges of breeding cows into the early winter. Cows calving in September and October are bred in December and January. Breeding cows during December and January in Michigan will offer conditions that are less than ideal for footing. Mud or ice often cause slippery conditions and increase chances of animal injury. The occurrence of frozen testicles during the breeding season may be increased, creating fertility problems on bulls that may have previously tested satisfactory during breeding soundness exams.

Housing requirements of fall born calves are greater during the nursing phase of calf production. Also, fall calving cows are nursing calves through the winter months and have higher nutrient requirements than dry, gestating cows during this same time period. Cows nursing calves through the winter months are frequently thinner at weaning, with body condition scores (BCS) of 3.5-4.5. These thin cows then can be fed on high quality pasture as dry cows and gain body condition rapidly and efficiently through the summer entering calving season in good to excellent condition BCS 5.5-6.5. The fall calving system also provides high quality grazing nutrition through calving and into breeding season, requiring high quality feed to complete breeding for 30-45 days.

Fall calving systems improve health of newborn calves, aids in aligning marketing with seasonal highs, and allow cows to graze high quality pasture through calving and into the breeding season. Producers implementing fall calving frequently wean a higher percentage of calves per cow exposed because calf survival rate and pregnancy rates are higher. With the exception of feed cost, calf survival and pregnancy percentage are two performance measures usually most highly correlated with profitability. For more information on tailoring a fall calving system to your production goals, contact Frank Wardynski at wardynsk@anr.msu.edu.

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