By Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Extension Cattle Reproduction Specialist
Basically spring and fall have become the seasons of choice, but tremendous differences exist as to what months within each of those seasons are the primary months for most of the calves to be born.
Deciding on the use of one calving season or two calving seasons is a big first step. Many fall calving seasons have arisen from elongated spring seasons. Two calving seasons fits best for herds with more than 80 cows. To take full advantage of the economies of scale, a ranch needs to produce at least 20 steer calves in the same season to realize the price advantage associated with increased lot size. Therefore having 40 cows in each season as a minimum seems to make some sense. Using two seasons instead of just one can reduce bull costs a great deal. Properly developed and cared-for bulls can be used in both the fall and the spring, therefore reducing the bull battery by half.
Another small advantage to having two calving seasons is the capability of taking fall-born heifers and holding them another few months to go in to the spring season and visa versa. Because of this replacement heifers are always 2 1/2 years at first calving instead of 2 years old. These heifers should be more likely to breed early in the breeding season and have slightly less calving difficulty. Research has shown that these differences are very small, therefore the cost of the other six months feed must be minimal to make this a paying proposition.
Many producers like the dual calving seasons because of the spread of the marketing risk. Having half of the calf crop sold at two different times allows for some smoothing of the cattle cycle roller coaster ride. Heifers that are exposed to the bull or the insemination gun for the first time when they are about 18 months of age will be too old to go directly to the feedlot if they fail to breed. Therefore the culled, open heifers will be marketed as young cows and will sell for a much lower (about $30/cwt lower) price than culled heifers that were to be bred at 13 to 15 months of age. Ranchers that use two breeding seasons need to consider this price discount when deciding to hold the heifers that extra six months before putting them in the breeding pasture.
There are "pros and cons” to two breeding seasons. There are successful cow calf operations with one OR with two breeding seasons.
You can read more from Glenn Selk at Oklahoma State University's Cow-Calf Corner Web site.