Calving & Animal Performance
The greatest limits on livestock production are related to the grazing animals ability to select and consume a diet supplying enough nutrients to meet daily requirements for weight gain, reproduction & over-all health. Maintaining a diverse hay/grass/pasture, containing not only desirable grasses but also legumes such as Alfalfa & Clovers will allow your cattle to maintain a higher level of nutrient intake during the upcoming grazing season. On our farm we've found that utilizing a dairy cattle pasture and hay mix with extra legumes added to the mix, will help keep our cattles weight gain extend longer into the dormancy time of grass growth in the fall and winter months. That's generally when most produccers see weight gain stall. Weaning our cattle off of our lush pastures to dry hay when weight gain is at it's most critical time, can be frustraiting for most produccers. But when you allow your cattle access to free-choice dry hay throughout the grazing season it has proven to us that they perform better over the winter months when stockpiled dormant forages and dry hay is all they have to utilize for keeping consistant daily gain and required energy levels to keep warm.
Practices that allow cattle to selectively graze during the summer become more important as the growing season progresses. As we all know, forage quality declines as plants mature. That’s why it’s best to mow Alfalfa as soon as you start to see the purplish flowers on the plants. If you look across your fields and see a purple blanket of color that means your about 4-6 day’s late on your mowing. The base of the Alfalfa stands if looked at closely will be brown and getting very "steamy". You’ll increase your yields but at the cost of forage quality. "Timing" is also a critical component when making hay. The best time to mow legumes such as Alfalfa and clovers is between 10am & 2pm. That is when the sugars are being produced in the plant. Before and after those times of day, the energy of the plants are closer to the root's or crown.
Forage quality, intake, and cattle performance decline as "grazing pressure" increases beyond a critical level at any time during the growing season. Grazing pressure is an animal to forage relationship measured in terms of animal units (AU) per unit weight of forage at any point in the growing season. Increasing grazing pressure such as MOB Grazing increases the frequency and severity of defoliation and reduces the opportunity for selective grazing.
The costs of early calving Heifers, late weaning calves, and maintaining high breed-back percentages in cattle with high lactation potential in pastured livestock operations may only be recovered when markets are high like how they are right now. Unfortunately you can’t predict market futures accurately 9-12 months in advance. Selecting cattle with characteristics that are compatible with the environment your farm/ranch is located in, is the key to any successful cattle or cow/calf operation. And shifting calving schedules to more closely match animal requirements with quality and quantity of your forage resources will produce higher net returns for your farm/ranch.
Dramatic changes in nutritional requirements are associated with environmental factors such as drought, flood, snow etc. as well as reproductive viability of your heifers & cows and the age of your replacement cattle and feeders. Improving the compatibility of your cow-calf operation to the environment your located in, can increase net farm profit, because of reduced feed and supplement costs and weather related risk. Weaning calves earlier reduces cow nutrient requirements dramatically. Dry cows can gain weight with forages on which lactating cows would lose condition. This theory won’t work for everyone. We don’t wean our calves. We allow them to wean naturally and they usually self-wean by the time their 6-7 months old anyway.
It’s a lot less stressful on the heifers/cow’s, calves and us!
The effects of shifting reproduction/calving from spring to fall to better take advantage of available forages and weaning schedules or yearling weights must be evaluated with regard to your cattle’s forage intake/availability. Think about it, calves may start consuming forages as soon as their 4-5 day’s old. They can’t utilize the forages but graze because momma does it. Their rumen isn’t developed enough to utilize forages until their 5-6 months old. So why calve in the spring and when their able to consume and utilize forages take them and the rest of your cattle off of your pastures because the forages have gone dormant for the winter? Why not aim to calve in the late summer/fall, so when their rumen can best utilize the forages their consuming, you will be getting them out on spring pastures! Additional information on future markets, marketing strategies, and ownership decisions is readily available from universities such as Penn State, local agencies and offices such as the FSA & NRCS. Direct and auction market data, and feeder cattle numbers can be found on web-sites maintained by the USDA Grain and Livestock Marketing News office in your state. As well as sites like AgWeb.com and LancasterFarming.com