Author: Kristy

Fall calving born of necessity

GREENFIELD — There is not much to stop a bitter north wind as Clark BreDahl checks part of his cow herd.

“It can get pretty cold up here,” he says. “But, the cattle don’t mind it.”

BreDahl, who farms near here in Adair County, switched his entire herd to fall calving two years ago. Calving usually begins around Aug. 28, with roughly 85 percent of the calves born in the first 30 days.

The Southwest Iowa cattleman began fall calving some of his 60-cow herd eight years ago, mostly out of necessity.

“I did a timed A.I. with my cows and ended up with almost a total failure,” BreDahl says. “Because of that, I decided to try and calve in the fall. I liked how it worked, so I split the herd.

“It became obvious that it was a lot easier to calve in the fall, so I moved the entire herd to fall calving.”

BreDahl says better weather is one of the more-appealing aspects of fall calving, and scours are a thing of the past.

“In reality, a lot of guys start calving in late winter, and scours are really an issue,” he says. “We don’t have that problem with fall calving.”

Calves are weaned in late winter or early spring, and BreDahl says weaning calves on new grass helps kick start the growth process.

“They stay on that all summer, and they really do well on it,” he says.

BreDahl says the breeding percentages for his spring- and fall-calving herds were nearly identical. There were some issues in 2013 with conception rates.

“We turn the bulls out on Nov. 25, and if you remember, it was bitterly cold,” he says. “We generally have a conception rate of 90 to 95 percent, but I think the cows were using all their groceries for maintenance, and we ended up with 15 percent open.”

BreDahl says cows lactating over the winter months will require higher-quality feed. Each cow is fed an additional 4 pounds of cracked corn and dry distillers.

“They can come through the winter looking pretty tough, and while I was concerned about that the first few years, I learned that they were fine,” he says. “Once their calves were weaned and they got out on that green grass, they snapped into good conditions pretty quickly.”

While fall calving is more common than in the past, most producers choose to split their herds, says Joe Sellers, Iowa State University Extension beef specialist in Chariton.

“I think those who fall calve like how it works,” he says. “Sometimes, you will have young cows that don’t get bred, and you can transition those into a fall herd.”

Sellers says gestation in the summer may be easier on some cows than lactation.

Calves born in the fall slide right into the stocker market, he adds. Splitting herds can also allow producers to graze more cows, better utilizing pasture.

Sellers says producers interested in fall calving will need to put a plan in place well before turning a bull out into the pasture.

“You are going to have additional feed needs in the fall, and cornstalks are not going to be enough,” he says. “Stockpiling forage would be a good system to use, and you need to make sure those cows are getting enough protein.”

Sellers suggests weaning calves early to help cows get into better body condition. ISU’s McNay Research and Demonstration Farm generally weans calves around the first of the year.

Fall calving could also boost calf health, Sellers says.

“You don’t have the issues with mud,” he says. “The health of the calves is going to depend largely on the weather. If it’s cold and muddy, you could have the same type of health concerns as you would in late winter or early spring.”

BreDahl chooses to wean his calves in late April and early May. He does put out a creep feeder over the winter to make sure calves are getting the energy they need.

“Those calves usually come out of the winter with long hair and they look pretty shaggy, but you put them on that good green grass in the spring and they look tremendous,” he says. “I don’t think the winter sets them back much at all, but we make sure they have plenty to eat.”

BreDahl said for him, calving in the fall is less labor intensive. He also runs a sheep operation, and calving in the fall allows him to concentrate on lambing in the spring.

“It could get pretty wild with calving and lambing at about the same time,” he says. “This works much better for me.”

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