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Don’t Put Away the Calving Book Just Yet

09:25AM Jul 03, 2014
BT Cow

It is a good idea to take a second look at those calving notes before you put them away for the year. 
By: Warren Rusche, Cow/Calf Field Specialist, SDSU Extension

It’s only natural as the season shifts to summer to focus on the immediate tasks at hand such as harvesting feed, monitoring the cattle on pasture, and beginning to prepare for weaning calves this fall. However, summer is a great opportunity to take one more look at the calving records as a way to measure and improve herd management.

Analyzing when calves are born during the calving season can provide valuable insight into the reproductive performance of the beef herd. Pregnancy check records tell us how many cows got bred, but when those calves are born is every bit as important.

The most obvious benefit to having more calves born early is the ability to market larger, more uniform groups of heavier calves, resulting in a larger payoff at sale time. However, the advantages of having calves born early extend beyond simple differences in weaning weight. Research from the University of Nebraska has demonstrated that steer calves born in the first part of the calving season had higher-valued carcasses with greater marbling scores. Those researchers also observed that heifer calves born in the first 21-day period were superior in reproductive performance compared to calves born in the third period. Calving data from the USDA Meat Animal Research Center and from South Dakota beef herds also shows that heifers that calve early tend to stay in the herd for one year longer compared to their later calving herd mates.

Many of the commercially available record keeping software packages will develop a calving distribution table, but these more sophisticated record keeping tools aren’t absolutely necessary to use this data. Simply tallying how many calves were born in each three-week period starting from the due date using pen and paper will provide the same information. From there the percentages born in each period can be determined. Although every herd has its own unique circumstances, here are some performance level benchmarks for each calving period:

  • 65 percent born by the end of the first 21-day period
  • 90 percent born by the end of the second 21-day period
  • 95 percent born by the end of the third 21-day period

An additional step that can be extremely useful is to break down this data by management groups (age groups, sire, breed, etc.). That information can then be used to drive management decisions. For instance if the second calf heifers are lagging behind the herd average, that could be an indication that changes are warranted. If daughters of a certain sire are performing particularly better (or worse) than average, that information could be used to help guide selection decisions.

Calving records can be used for so much more than simply recording which cow had which calf. Spending extra time on some simple analyses of the data that’s already been collected will help managers fine-tune their herd’s performance and optimize returns.